Work Begins Again for Reigning Champ West

August 18, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Kristen Nolan is trying to avoid putting undue pressure on her Traverse City West golf team.

So talk about defending an MHSAA Division 1 championship has been kept to a minimum during the preseason.

“I don’t want my girls going into (the season) too confident because that can also be a negative,” the seventh-year coach said. “I want them focusing on individual goals instead of that full team goal of winning states again. As long as each player is working on their personal goals, the rest (will take care of itself).”

The unranked Titans pulled a surprise a year ago, edging first-day leader and tournament favorite Rochester in a tiebreaker to claim the Lower Peninsula D1 title.

Ironically, neither team had a senior in the lineup.

West returns its core group of Anika Dy, Hunter Kehoe, Grace Ellul, Madison McCall and Grace Warren. Dy, now a sophomore, finished runner-up for the individual title. She was one stroke back of medalist Julia Dean of Brighton.

Dy competed in an American Junior Golf Association tournament at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club this week and missed the Titans’ season-opening tournament, the Bob Lober Classic at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

Dy missed a couple early tournaments last year as well, but when she returned to the lineup the Titans went on a roll, cruising to Big North Conference and Regional crowns en route to the MHSAA Finals championship.

“We got into a groove,” Ellul, a senior co-captain, said. “Hopefully, we can do the same this year.”

Most of the Titans spent considerable time on the links this summer, taking lessons and playing in several tournaments, notably in the Traverse City Junior Golf Association program.

“I highly encourage it,” Nolan said. “The girls love playing in it. It’s a little more low-key, not as competitive as high school golf, but it prepares them.”

Kehoe, also a senior co-captain, agreed.

“It allows us to focus and work on our games,” she said. “It’s a huge advantage coming into the fall.”

That focus has not shifted now that the high school campaign has arrived.

“We all have personal goals” Kehoe said. “Kristen does not want us to worry about going back to states and repeating what we did. She just wants us to work on our own games each and every tournament throughout the season.”

For Kehoe, who shot the Titans’ second-lowest score at the Finals last season, that means improving her approach to the game.

“I’m working on course management, really dialing in on target control,” the 17-year-old said. “I consistently shot 80 or low 80s last year. My goal is to be consistently in the 70s this year.”

Ellul, the Titans’ third-lowest scorer at the Finals, is stressing her mental outlook on the course.

“I get down on myself, get nervous, and it can ruin my game,” she said. “I need to learn to stay positive when I’m playing, not put myself down.”

Nobody was putting the Titans down last October when they rallied to win at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

West was in fourth place, five shots behind Rochester, after the opening day. But all five Titans golfers came back with lower rounds on the second day to give the school its first MHSAA girls golf title.

“Going into states our goal was top five,” Kehoe said. “We obviously knew there were a lot of good teams there. We did not expect to win it all. That was a huge surprise. It was amazing.”

After finishing their rounds, the Titans gathered in the clubhouse, away from the hubbub outside.

“We knew it was close,” Kehoe said. “All the parents were outside watching the scoreboard. We sat inside, too excited, too scared, to go outside and look.”

“It was nerve-wracking,” Ellul added. “We were trying to not get our hopes up, but we had to. When we found out we had won, it was crazy.”

Kehoe’s younger brother, Murphy, is the one who informed the team of its triumph.

“We walked out and immediately started crying and hugging our parents,” Kehoe recalled. “It was super surreal.”

How close was it? West and Rochester tied at 685, forcing officials to go to each team’s fifth golfer’s score over the tournament. Warren’s two-day 193 beat her rival’s to give West the title.

It kicked off a celebration that spilled over into the weekend and the following Monday at school when all of West’s sports teams held a reception for the champs in the school’s common area.

The team later custom-designed their own championship rings, which were presented at halftime of a boys basketball game.

“Thinking back on it, you forget how crazy it is to win the Division 1 state finals,” Ellul said. “Our school, and town, were so proud and supportive of us. They made it such a big deal. That was really nice.”

The Titans know they will not be able to take any team by surprise this season.

“Obviously, all eyes are on us,” Kehoe said. “We’ve been working hard this summer trying to improve our games. Our confidence is through the roof, but we’re all trying to maintain a calm, steady mindset so we don’t get too excited.”

Nolan likes what she has seen thus far.

“They definitely have that drive to try and win back-to back-state championships,” she said. “They’re definitely more eager. They’ve been putting in quite a bit of effort to get there.”

First things first, however.

“We can’t worry about an end-of-the-season result right now,” Kehoe said.

There’s work to be done.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West hoists for the first time Oct. 17 its first MHSAA girls golf championship trophy. (Middle) Anika Dy lines up a putt during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Click to see more from

Pederson Wins Memorably, Ontonagon Ascends Again in 'Phenomenal' Fashion

By Jason Juno
Special for

May 30, 2024

ESCANABA – Big Bay de Noc’s Camryn Pederson carded an 89 on Thursday to win the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final individual champion and become the first U.P. champion to clear 90 since 2019.

“It feels really good,” she said. “I tried my best to golf as good as I could today, and I’m really glad that it came out the way it was. It’s a good way to end my senior year.”

She said she liked the open course that was low on hazards at the Escanaba Country Club. And she did most things well during her round Thursday.

“I think I minimized my putts. I only one or two-putt most of the holes,” Pederson said. “And my drives were really good.”

She became the second golfer from Big Bay de Noc to win a U.P. Finals individual golf title. Samantha Guertin won Division 3 in 2006 with a 90.

Pederson’s team was seeking its first title since 2005 after finishing runner-up last year, but finished second to a school where girls golf has pretty much always been strong – Ontonagon.

Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship.When the MHSAA first separated the U.P. Finals into separate classes, Ontonagon won the first 10 Class C-D championships, from 1978 to 1987. When Class D got its own U.P. championship tournament, the Gladiators girls won the first four, part of a five-year run of titles from 1994 to 1998. When classifications changed again in 2001, and the name of the smallest group of schools changed from Class D to Division 3, Ontonagon didn’t stop winning, racking up seven more Finals championships.

On Thursday, the Gladiators made it eight wins in Division 3 and 23 overall.

Two of their golfers finished under 100 – runner-up Madyson Pantti carded a 94, and Sam Bailey had a 98. All five finished among the top 10 individuals. Summer Stites’ 100 was good for a fourth-place tie, and Olivia Lockhart and Shayna Stites tied for 10th with 108s.

It was the first U.P. Finals golf championship for all of them, including coach Jim Jessup. The Gladiators’ last team wins came with back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.

Ontonagon repeated as Copper Mountain Conference champion this year. The Gladiators had finished third last season at the U.P. Division 3 Final and outshot Big Bay de Noc on Thursday by eight strokes, 400-408. Ontonagon shot 36 strokes better than at last season’s Final, and every golfer shot under 110, which Jessup called “phenomenal.”

“I think the girls just worked really hard to better themselves,” he said. “Their stroke play was better, their consistency was better.”

Pantti improved her score by eight strokes from last year’s Final. The junior will have another shot at an individual championships in 2025, but she had a lot to be proud of this time with her runner-up finish that led the Gladiators to a team title.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It was something that we’d been looking forward to all season. We’ve done good in a lot of our meets, and I thought this was a really good year for us.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Big Bay de Noc's Camryn Pederson follows her drive on No. 4 on Thursday at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Ontonagon celebrates its latest girls golf Finals championship. (Photos by Jason Juno.)