By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
MIDDLEVILLE – The end of last season gave the Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg girls golf team a pretty good idea of what the future might hold.
The Trojans finished runners-up in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold, fourth at their Regional and were returning everyone the following season.
“I think it gave them a taste of like, we can do this,” T-K girls golf coach Bob Kaminski said. “They just had to make some improvements.”
The improvements Kaminski felt were necessary to get over the hump came to fruition, and the team made strides in reaching its goals.
The Trojans won the conference title over perennial powerhouse Grand Rapids South Christian and finished third at last week’s Division 2 Regional to qualify for the MHSAA Finals for the first time since 2005.
The conference crown also was their first in 18 years, when they were part of the O-K Blue.
“Last year we played really well,” Kaminski said. “We finished second in the conference and didn’t manage to get through Regionals, but we returned everybody for this year and we just felt like if they worked hard then we could improve and do good things.”
T-K will compete this weekend at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East Golf Course with a senior-laden group.
There are eight seniors on the varsity squad, with five among the top six. They’ve played together since middle school.
“We all started in seventh grade, and we all kind of talked about how we were going to be on the golf team together,” senior Anna Kaminski said. “We’ve all been pretty close for years, and so going through the entire high school golf journey together has been awesome. Our bond is pretty strong.”
Other seniors are Clair Jansma, Anna Harmens, Paige Willette and Maddie Shepard. Jansma has been one of the team’s best but did not play in the Regional, making the Trojans’ qualifying for the Finals even more impressive.
Junior Paige VanStee has the team’s lowest scoring average.
“Obviously, this feels great (to make it to the Finals),” Bob Kaminski said. “Four of the girls who played at Regionals are seniors, and they came onto the team three years ago as freshmen and they just worked hard. They’ve played really well this year and have had a really good season.”
A key factor in the Trojans’ success has been their ability to consistently drop scores.
From last year to this one, a steady decline in each girl’s scoring average has paved the way toward a Finals berth.
“We’ve seen a big jump this year,” Bob Kaminski said. “We actually looked at some stats, and a number of them improved three or four shots from what they were last year. It’s a hard-working group, and they’re always trying to get better.”
Kaminski has embraced the opportunity to coach his daughter, Anna.
“That has been a lot of fun,” he said. “It can be stressful at times because the role of a father and coach are sometimes vastly different, but it’s been enjoyable to watch her play and progress and get better.”
Anna Kaminski said the seniors were motivated to make their mark on the program and end the longstanding drought between Finals appearances.
“We came into the season kind of expecting to do pretty well,” she said. “We knew we had a decent team, and we thought if we could do well in the conference then we should make it to state.”
And Jansma said the team was determined to take the necessary steps to heighten expectations.
"We felt very motivated," she said. "We still wanted to have fun. (But) in the back of our minds, I think we were all looking to win it. We pushed ourselves, and we got the job done.
"It felt so satisfying to work as hard as we did and have it finally pay off. For me, I spent quite a large amount of time working on my short game, and I remember spending hours on the driving range. I was itching to get out on the course with all my teammates."
The Trojans won’t be considered among the favorites this weekend, but that won’t stop them from competing hard to earn the best finish possible.
“I’ve been trying to tell them to have fun and enjoy the experience, but they are a very driven group and they want to do as well as they can,” Bob Kaminski said. “Obviously you’re playing with the best teams in the state, so we don’t know how it is all going to end up. But they want to go there and compete and do the best they can."
Added Anna Kaminski: “I’m not trying to put up a certain score or anything, and I just want to go and have fun. There are a lot of good teams out there, but hopefully we’ll do all right and play our best.”
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@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Thornapple-Kellogg’s Anna Kaminski watches an approach shot during competition this fall. (Middle) Junior Paige VanStee has been the team’s low scorer. (Photos courtesy of The Sun and News.)
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.)