By Tom Lang
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – For the South Lyon girls golf team, it was a first.
For Allison Cui of Okemos, it was number two.
And for all of the competitors Friday at Forest Akers West playing in the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals, it was a relief that there simply was a competition in the first place to conclude a season where the Covid-19 pandemic has had school programs, and society in general, on edge.
Last year’s Division 1 champion, Cui, won her second individual Finals title with a 2-under 70 – this time in Division 2 as her team dropped a slot in enrollment. As a freshman in 2018, when Okemos was also in Division 2, Cui tied for first but finished runner-up due to losing a one-hole playoff.
“I’m ecstatic. I really never imagined (two in a row),” Cui said. “I thought there was a chance I could win, but for it to happen, it’s just surreal.”
She said the competition in D2 was just as solid as playing last year in D1.
“I know a lot of the girls (in D2) and played with them over the summer,” Cui added. “They are really strong players, and any other day they could win this easily.”
Cui had a rough start to her day, scoring three consecutive bogies early. But in the middle of her round she carded five birdies over a span of six holes to fight back and then hold the lead. She admitted that made her a little nervous since the Finals this season were cut back from the traditional two-day, two-rounds format, to one 18-hole round to reduce the chances for spreading Covid-19.
“I think I was a little nervous going into it, because this year we don’t have that second day to bounce back if you have a bad first round,” she said. “But I think you have to have the same mentality. I was thinking take it one shot at a time and if you have a bad hole move on from it and make some birdies here and there.”
South Lyon won its first Finals team title in girls golf, after coming so close many times before. The program has won nine straight Regional titles, made 12 consecutive Finals trips and earned two runner-up finishes – last year and in 2014.
This time, the Lions ended Forest Hills Northern’s three-year hold on the Division 2 championship, shooting 335 to edge the Huskies by three strokes.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said long-time head coach Dan Skatzka. “We were so close so many times, and (with) so many great teams of girls. It wasn’t easy of course. (Forest Hills) Northern didn’t go down without a big battle. We’d be up by eight or nine strokes, then down to three, then back up to seven. As it came right down to the end it was literally like match play for about the last four holes. Someone would lose strokes, then someone else picked them up. Just a great team effort all the way.”
Skatzka wasn’t quite sure if playing just one round versus two was the difference maker in the outcome.
“We really didn’t think about it that way,” he said about not having a second round for a possible comeback scenario. “We looked at it as this is one shot, and we need to be ready from the beginning. We felt pretty good about playing here, and we felt pretty good about having a one-time shot at it. Whether it’s one round or two rounds, you have to put out your best effort from the beginning. The girls were so focused, and the hours and hours of extra putting, especially in these last couple of weeks, using all the putting drills we’ve used all season long. It always comes down to the putting.”
Leading the Lions were senior Katherine Potter at 1-over 73, good for individual runner-up; and reigning individual champ Gabriella Tapp, who finished tied for sixth with an 80. Senior Isabella Campbell tied for 11th.
Tying for third overall were Lilia Henkel of Northern and Olivia Stoll of Haslett.
“I’m just so appreciative to have been able to get this season in,” Skatzka added. “I feel so bad for so many teams that weren’t able to in the spring. We’re very fortunate to have gotten it in and not have any issues all along.”
He also noted that his golfers were focused on keeping to themselves and not getting sick, because they knew the entire season could end if there was Covid-19 detected on the team.
“We had that hanging over us this year in addition to the usual things,” he said, “so I’m very thankful.”
PHOTOS: (Top) South Lyon’s Gabriella Tapp takes aim during Friday’s Division 2 Final at Michigan State University. (Middle) Okemos’ Allison Cui drains a putt on the way to her second-straight individual title. (Click to see 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 email@example.com 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.)