By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A year after winning their first MHSAA girls golf championships, Spring Lake and Kalamazoo Hackett are expected to repeat as low scorers at their respective Finals this weekend.
But if the coaches polls are correct, Midland Dow will be the next to join the first-time title-winners club, and Brighton could jump into the mix for the first time as well.
All four Lower Peninsula Finals will tee off Friday morning and finish Saturday. See below for glances at the favored teams in each division, plus others who could make runs at individual titles as only Maple City Glen Lake junior Nichole Cox is back as a reigning champion. Click for qualifiers and Regional results from all four divisions and Finals results as they are reported, and check back Saturday evening for coverage of all four tournaments.
LP Division 1 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University
Top-ranked: 1. Rochester, 2. Lake Orion, 3. Brighton.
Rochester is a favorite to add its first MHSAA title since winning back-to-back in 2008 and 2009, while Lake Orion last won in spring 2007 but was runner-up last season and Brighton is seeking its first championship. Plymouth, the winner in 2012 and 2013, saw its reign end a year ago but enters this weekend ranked No. 7 and shot a 320 in winning its Regional. Watch out for sixth-ranked Troy, which put three players in the 70s in shooting 309 to also win last week.
Rochester – The Falcons won their Regional at Davison Country Club with a score of 317, 16 strokes better than Lake Orion and with three individuals among the top six finishers. Juniors Veronica Haque and Erika Yang tied for third at 74 and junior Brooke Busse tied for sixth at 80; Haque was fifth at last season’s Final as an individual qualifier after the team missed making the tournament by two strokes.
Lake Orion – Although the Dragons finished second at the Regional, they do bring back three players from last season’s Final runner-up. Junior Moyea Russell was eighth individually in 2014 and tied for 10th at last week’s Regional, while senior Lauren Danielson was fifth last week at 76. Those two and senior Megan Miller also played on the team that finished 10th at the 2013 Final.
Brighton – The Bulldogs also shot 317 to win their Regional, at Hartland Glen, after missing the Final as a team last season. Junior Julia Dean, playing her first season of high school golf, won the individual regional championship with a 71 and was joined by freshman Annie Pietilla and sophomore Heather Fortushniak, who tied for 10th, while all five players finished among the top 23.
Other individuals of note: Seven of last year’s top 11 (who finished among the top 10 with ties) are back this weekend, led by third-place Lauren Ingle of Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. She won the Regional at Davison by a stroke at 72 over Cardinals junior Kamryn Johnston. The top four at the Regional at Fox Hills in Plymouth were Plymouth senior Katie Chipman at 69, Ann Arbor Skyline junior Jamie Laude at 74 and Saline senior Samantha Kellstrom and Ann Arbor Pioneer sophomore Katie-Mina Lee both at 76 – Laude tied for ninth at last season’s Final and Kellstrom was sixth. Senior Jennifer Cui, also a ninth-place finisher in 2014, led Troy’s incredible team effort with a winning 73 at Twin Lakes. East Kentwood senior Mackenzie Keenoy will be the lone representative of the reigning team champion after finishing second with a 75 at Broadoor Golf Course in Caledonia, where Traverse City West freshman Anika Dy went low with a 70. Total, 25 players broke 80 in LP Division 1 Regionals.
LP Division 2 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Okemos.
Midland Dow has been ranked No. 1 in this division all season as it has pursued its first MHSAA championship after finishing fifth a year ago. But reigning champion Seaholm has been ranked No. 2 all season after winning last year’s title by an incredible 37 strokes. Okemos remains in the mix as well after finishing fourth last season; the Chiefs have been ranked no lower than No. 4 this fall and also are seeking a first championship.
Midland Dow – The top three from last season’s Finals lineup are back this weekend, led by fourth-place individual finisher Stephanie Carras. The junior won the Regional at The Emerald in St. Johns in a playoff after shooting a 74, while sophomore Alexis Carras was fifth and senior Alexie Flaminio was seventh. The team won the Regional title over No. 5 Flushing thanks to a fifth-score tie-breaker after both shot 340.
Seaholm – The Maples also have three back from last season’s Finals lineup and won their Regional at Heather Highlands in Holly by 16 strokes with a 328. Seniors Allegra Cunningham and Jordan Michalak were second and third, respectively, at the Regional, after finishing second and tied for seventh at last season’s Final. All five Seaholm golfers finished among the top 11 and shot at least 87 last week.
Okemos – The Chiefs also shot 340 to win their Regional, by 15 strokes, at Island Hills in Centreville. Four golfers from last season’s Final are back, and all four finished among the top 11 individuals at the Regional – senior Jessica Kim was third at 78, while senior Macy Dahnke was eighth, senior Kaylie Anderson was 10th and junior Lauren Kim was 11th. Jessica Kim and Dahnke also played on the 2013 team that finished only a stroke behind champion Seaholm.
Other individuals of note: In addition to the three mentioned above, Flushing junior Kerrigan Parks (ninth) and South Lyon senior Priscilla Harding (tied for 10th) are back from last season’s top 10; Parks played Carras in the playoff last week at The Emerald, while Harding and sophomore sister Elizabeth tied for second at Pine View in Ypsilanti, two strokes behind Detroit Renaissance senior Nia Little. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer freshman Karina VanDuinen carried her team to within two strokes of qualifying while winning the individual Regional title at Thornapple Pointe in Grand Rapids by 11 strokes with a 71. Grosse Pointe North senior Liz Gallagher shot a 75 to edge the Seaholm seniors in Holly.
Division 3 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Spring Lake, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Goodrich.
The Lakers and longtime coach George Bitner celebrated their first MHSAA championship in 2014 and are favored to repeat. But providing the main obstacle again should be Cranbrook Kingswood, runner-up the last three seasons and seeking its first title since 2006. Goodrich didn’t have a team as of two seasons ago but has quickly joined the elite.
Spring Lake – Four of the team’s top five from last season, including individual runner-up Anna Kramer, will pace the lineup again this weekend after the team won last year’s Final by 18 strokes. Spring Lake won its Regional by 43 strokes with a 332 at Ada’s Egypt Valley, with junior Madelyn Nelson finishing first, senior Kayla Krueger second, junior Kramer tying for fourth and senior Emma Conroy 11th.
Cranbrook Kingswood – The Cranes graduated two-time individual champion Cordelia Chan but hope to break through for another title with three more back from last season’s team. They played well under pressure last week, winning the Regional at Holly Meadows in Capac by two strokes over Goodrich, shooting an impressive 328. This season’s returnees all finished among the top seven at the Regional – sophomore Katie Cao was third, senior Molly Wiener tied for fourth and sophomore Carmen Chan was seventh.
Goodrich – Sisters Taylor Harding and Sydni Harding tied for first at Holly Meadows (Taylor won in a playoff) and all five players finished among the top 24. Taylor Harding did make the Final last season and finished eighth, and is one of three seniors among the top five with Sydni Harding a junior.
Other individuals of note: The individual race should be intense, with seven of last year’s top 10 returning and seven players total breaking 80 at last week’s Regionals. Lake Odessa Lakewood senior Emily Barker was third at last season’s Final and shot the low Regional score in LPD3, a 73. Carleton Airport junior Olivia Reed and Warren Regina senior Kendall Graves were among four players who tied for fourth last year, and Ada Forest Hills Eastern junior Megan Skoog and Wayland senior Ali Martus followed Harding in ninth and 10th, respectively, in 2014. Detroit Country Day junior Mallika Brar finished a stroke ahead of Reed to win the Regional at Monroe Country Club, while Grand Rapids South Christian senior Nicole Hoekwater won the Regional at HawksHead in South Haven, where Holland Christian senior Abby Karsten was second and Martus was third.
LP Division 4 at Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Kalamazoo Hackett, 2. Livonia Ladywood, 3. Macomb Lutheran North.
Hackett last season became the first team not Grosse Ile or Lansing Catholic to win an LP Division 4 title in the division’s six-year history, finishing 33 strokes ahead of the field. Lutheran North was third and Ladywood was seventh, although the latter was LP Division 2 runner-up as recently as spring 2007.
Kalamazoo Hackett – Three of Hackett’s top five are back to lead the repeat attempt, including senior Elizabeth Stull, who tied for ninth individually last season. The Fighting Irish have been ranked No. 1 all fall and shot 324 to win the Regional at Eastern Hills in Kalamazoo by 38 strokes. Stull won the individual regional title, with junior Naomi Keyte second and senior Becca Radomsky fifth – both also started with Stull at last season’s Final. All five Hackett players were among the top 12 at the Regional.
Ladywood – The Blazers also shot an impressive regional score, winning at Huron Meadows in Brighton with a 327 that outpaced Lutheran North by 13 strokes. They should be poised to make a run at Hackett loaded with experience, as last season’s top four finishers at the Final all are back. Senior Carley Hall won the Regional with a 77, while junior Lydia Cranmer and sophomore Gabriella Scopone tied for third and junior Jordyn Rioux was sixth.
Lutheran North – The Mustangs have been ranked at least No. 3 all season and spent the first half at No. 2 led by three returnees from last season’s Final. Sophomore Serena Nguyen tied for seventh in 2014 and was fifth at Huron Meadows last week as all five players on her team finished among the top nine. Junior Sydney Martens was second, junior Madison Mohr seventh, freshman Kaity Rittner eighth and senior Grace McKelvey tied for ninth. Martens and McKelvey also played in last year’s Final.
Other individuals of note: Maple City Glen Lake junior Nichole Cox is one of the state’s top players regardless of division and is seeking her second straight LP Division 4 title. Frankenmuth boasts a pair of top-10 finishers from a year ago – senior Shayna Schneider was fourth and junior Megan Watkins was sixth. Manistee senior Fallon Gates finished only a stroke behind Cox with a 75 at their Regional at Grayling Country Club, while Watkins and Schneider were first and second at Glenbrier in Perry.
PHOTO: Lakewood’s Emily Barker watches one of her shots on the way to winning last week’s Regional at Centennial Acres in Sunfield. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – The Rockford girls golf team witnessed first-hand at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final the type of scores it would take to compete for top honors in the state.
The Rams finished a laudable eighth at last year’s championship tournament, but their two-day total of 697 (338-359) put them well behind champion Northville, which posted team scores of 307 and 308 to claim a fourth-straight Finals title by 12 strokes.
Rockford entered this season with aspirations to close the gap, and it has done just that with a talented quartet of experienced golfers.
“Our top four are better than we've had in the past,” Rams girls golf coach Scott Kruisenga said. “Maybe we’re not quite as deep, but the potential for all four of these girls to be in the 70s is pretty exciting.
“We’ve been seeing those scores by Northville, and Rochester Adams and Saline, and that's some darn good golf.
“The girls last year saw some of the scores that needed to take place in order to have a shot at a state championship, and they really took it serious over the summer. They played a lot of tournament golf, and they want it and they believe they can do it.”
The extra preparation and enhanced desire has been evident with low scores and first-place finishes.
The Rams have rolled through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red thus far with the league tournament looming next week.
A new school record was established as well when Rockford won the Kent County Classic with an impressive 306.
“We’ve played well, and it’s been fun getting to know everyone the last three years,” said junior Jessica Jolly, the team’s No. 1 golfer.
“Everyone is capable of shooting low, so when we can do our best on the same day it’s fun, and we’ve broken the school record multiple times in the past few years.”
Jolly is joined in the top four by seniors Mackenzie Davidson and Bridget Parlmer and junior Aubrey Wilson.
In addition to the Kent Country Classic, Rockford also won the O-K Red Midseason Tournament, the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament and the Greenville Invitational.
The Rams took second behind state powerhouse Brighton at the 36-hole Lober Classic at Crystal Mountain to open the season.
“They have really been playing up to their ability and been playing lights out,” Kruisenga said. “They’ve put a lot of hard work in, and I’ve had all four since they were freshmen so it’s been fun to see how they’ve been improving year by year.
“That has been the most exciting thing, seeing the improvement and dedication they are putting into get better.”
While the team had high expectations entering the season, Kruisenga said they have already exceeded his.
“I was thinking even if we stay the same as last year we would be a good team,” he said, “but everyone is playing better.”
Jolly has been the catalyst and broke her own school record earlier this season with a superb 67 at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
She tied for ninth at the LPD1 Final as a freshman, when Rockford finished fifth as a team, and just missed the individual top 10 last season.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played, and I’ve definitely seen my average drop to the lowest it’s been since I’ve been in high school.” Jolly said. “Most of my rounds have been under par, and it’s been fun to make some birdies and get a chance at shooting pretty low.”
After struggling on the second day of last year’s Final, Kruisenga said the success his team had at the 36-hole event earlier this season should bode well for the future.
“We did that intentionally to try and get used to that back-to-back,” he said. “The girls fared really well. We lost by three or four strokes to Brighton, and we were tied going into the second day. They kept a good mental game and limited their mistakes.”
The Rams are anxious for the postseason, but refuse to take anything for granted. They want to finish the conference season strong before setting their sights on a Finals berth.
“Our first goal would be to win the postseason tournament, and then we hope to do well at Regionals and qualify for state,” Jolly said. “If we do, then we’re looking to perform well there and give ourselves a chance.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Jessica Jolly powers through a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)