Sailors Book 23rd Straight Finals Trip

October 17, 2018

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – A familiar name is once again among the qualifiers for this weekend’s MHSAA Division 3 Girls Golf Finals.

Grand Rapids South Christian has made annual appearances in the season-ending event and put together quite an impressive streak.

The Sailors claimed a Regional title last Wednesday and punched their ticket to the Finals for the 23rd consecutive year.

“We’ve been able to go to state for a lot of years, and that’s been awesome,” South Christian’s No. 1 player, senior Natalie Samdal said. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that no matter who is on the team we’ve worked really hard to achieve the goal of going to state.”

South Christian, which won Division 3 championships in 2007 and 2009 and has finished runner-up six times, will play at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East Golf Course on Friday and Saturday.

The Sailors placed runner-up to Macomb Lutheran North a year ago by a mere three strokes and should be in the mix again with a veteran lineup consisting of four who competed in the Finals last season: Samdal, seniors Ashley Keen and Sara VanSolkema and junior Maddie Wieringa.

VanSolkema suffered a slight knee ligament tear at Regionals and didn’t play. She’s expected to return for the Finals.

“We have a lot of returning girls from last year, and they’ve played well,” South Christian coach Ben Cook said. “Natalie is our best player and has played a lot of tournament golf, and Ashley put a lot of time in this summer and has improved a lot. Those two have led us this season.”

The Sailors, whose top five also includes sophomore Kate Hoekwater, have similar expectations for success at the Finals this year as well, although the field is filled with several talented teams.

“Last year I would’ve been disappointed if we didn’t finish in the top five, and our goal going in was to shoot around 700 and we shot exactly 700 – so that was pretty cool,” Cook said. “Obviously we would like to finish one place higher this year, but we know the competition is tough. I think we’re one of the top teams, and we will see how it plays out.”

Keen said it was important to advance to the Finals again despite key graduation losses.

“It’s a big deal for us, and we’re excited to be going again,” she said. “We were a little nervous because we lost two very good players that graduated, but I’m proud to say that we made it again.

“This is my third year on varsity, and I want this to be the best ending in a good way. It was tough being so close last year, and it would be cool if we won because we’ve put a lot of work in.”

The team also received a congratulatory tweet from another sport at the school after winning its Regional.

The football team made a short video and posted it on social media.

“I thought that was pretty cool, and I wasn’t expecting that,” Keen said. “Golf doesn’t get a lot of credit from other sports, so that was a surprise to me. I liked it, and they just congratulated us on winning Regionals and told us good luck at state.”

Samdal has been the catalyst in the program’s ability to remain consistent. As a four-year performer, she’s dropped her scores steadily and been among the Grand Rapids area’s best.

She tied for third individually at last season’s Final and will play golf next year at Davenport University.

“She’s improved every year and is a solid player all the way around,” Cook said. “She’s tough mentally as well and wants to do well. She’s driven that way.”

Samdal is vocally talented, too, and is part of the choir program at South Christian. She said both pursuits help bring out the best in her.  

“I’ve been singing my whole life, and both choir and golf take a lot of practice and hard work,” said Samdal, who joined her choir in singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at an NCAA Division III basketball game. “You can’t just jump right to it. You have to work at it.”

The forecast for the weekend isn’t expected to be ideal for golf, but the Sailors are determined to conquer the elements.

“We played a practice round last weekend and that helped, but our team will fight through the cold or rain or whatever it throws at us,” Samdal said.

She is looking forward to her final high school tournament.

“I’m going to miss high school golf, but part of me is excited for college golf as well,” she said. “I don’t think it will be as emotional as it would be if I wasn’t playing more, but it will be bittersweet.

“I think we have the potential to be in the top five as a team, and possibly the top three. We will see how well we can do.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian’s girls golf team poses with its latest Regional championship trophy, won last Wednesday. (Middle) Natalie Samdal tees off during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Top photo courtesy of South Christian’s athletic department; middle by

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1