By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Neither Megan Manninen nor Berkley LaFreniere had seen their complete body of work all in one place before coach Jared Koski laid it out on a table at Ishpeming Westwood’s girls golf team banquet earlier this month.
Standing tall among a number of accolades were four MHSAA Finals championship trophies.
“It was exciting. It was the first time I really saw them all together,” LaFreniere said. “It’s a great accomplishment. Coming into high school, I didn’t think anything of (being able to do) it.”
Only a few have achieved that feat. It’s the fourth such streak in 35 years of the Upper Peninsula Girls Finals.
But what makes this one stand out is that the championships came across two divisions – the Upper Peninsula is split into three – with Westwood, a school of roughly 350 students, winning three in Division 2 and the fourth in Division 1 against schools with two and three times more students.
The first three titles were won by nearly the same group of players. Three new ones filled in this spring. And the constants on all four were Manninen and LaFreniere, the recipients of Second Half's final High 5s of 2011-12.
Three times – in 2009, 2011 and this season – Manninen was medalist. This spring, she won with an 87, while LaFreniere finished second with a 90.
They’ve been good friends since first grade and grew closer still when both started playing more basketball together during sixth. Manninen was the Patriots’ 5-foot-4 point guard during the winter, and LaFreniere, at 5-9, was one of her post players.
LaFreniere also played No. 1 doubles in the fall as Westwood's tennis team won its third-straight MHSAA Finals in that sport. And Manninen has signed to play hoops next season at Lake Superior State University.
“Golf is a game where you’re out there alone. You either get it or you don’t … and they’re used to that pressure,” said Koski, who also is Manninen’s uncle. “They’re competitive, and academically also, fighting for grades and standing in their class and in (National) Honors Society. They are a little more seasoned.”
Despite a season often affected by weather – Koski said his players usually don’t get outside until April, and the Finals this spring were May 31 and June 1 – Manninen and LaFreniere both averaged 45.3 strokes for nine holes.
And Manninen continued her strong play despite missing nearly three weeks of practice while traveling to the University of Michigan hospital to visit another uncle and huge sports supporter, Jamie Reichardt, before he died May 14.
Those hospital trips helped Manninen decide to pursue a degree in pre-med. And that sad event led to one of the most touching stories of this spring’s tournaments. At the Final at Newberry Country Club, Manninen carried in her bag a sleeve of balls that had belonged to her uncle and were labeled with his nickname “Colonel.”
She played the entire 18 holes using just one ball.
“That was some extra motivation,” Manninen said. “I told myself I couldn’t lose that ball.”
Both girls got their golfing starts at Wawonowin Country Club in Champion, about three miles west of Ishpeming – Manninen’s father Kevin manages the course and LaFreniere’s father Paul is a longtime member. The girls grew up playing Marquette County Junior Golf Association events together. Both got their toughest individual competition from each other most of the last few seasons, but neither thought about it that way.
Their performances at the top made a difference throughout the line-up. Koski said the pair would build a 20-stroke lead against the opposing top-two players, which allowed the Patriots’ 3-5 players to work on holding their own instead of facing pressure to put up a low number.
“They drive themselves the best they can,” Koski said. “They’re both good students, and they know how to make good decisions on the course. (And) they don’t like to lose.”
Click to read more about their favorite players and future plans.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming Westwood's Berkley LaFreniere and Megan Manninen pose after all four of the Patriots' Finals wins in 2009, 2010, 2011 and this spring. (Middle above) LaFreniere finished runner-up at this season's Final at Newberry Country Club. (Middle below) Manninen won her third individual championship this spring, this time shooting an 87. (Bottom) LaFreniere (left) and Manninen pose with their four trophies and various other accolades during the team banquet earlier this month.