By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Along with their clubs and cold-weather gear, and everything else necessary to win a tournament, a sign has accompanied the Muskegon Mona Shores girls golf team on every road trip this fall. It hangs in the team van and reads “Team Before Me,” and is signed by every member.
Each of the Sailors’ top six players, individually, could top most lineups in the state. But the sign serves as a reminder of what they can accomplish together.
Next weekend, Mona Shores can make MHSAA history.
The Sailors – recipients of a Second Half High 5 this week – are one of four Lower Peninsula teams that have won three straight MHSAA championships since the first Finals were played in 1973. A week from Friday, at The Meadows at Grand Valley State, Mona Shores will attempt to become the first team to win four in a row – keyed by four competitive seniors who played for the first three championship teams and have pushed each other toward one more fantastic finish.
“That’s what’s kept the adrenaline going with them. They want to beat each other, and they want to beat each other bad,” said Mona Shores coach John Brainard, who’s finishing his 16 seasons. “But still, they understand that it’s the team before me. We hang that note card up in the van before we go, and we’ve been trying to keep with that team concept.”
Seniors Morgan Smith, Hailey Hrynewich, Britni Gielow and Kelsey McKinley all have earned all-state recognition during their tremendous run, and all four were part of the lineups that won those first three MHSAA titles.
The 2009 team shot a two-day 666 at Michigan State's Forest Akers East to win Division 2 by 15 strokes, with then-senior Brooke Adamczak fourth individually, Hrynewich fifth and Smith sixth.
In 2010, the Sailors shot a 699 at Forest Akers West and won Division 2 by 26 strokes – this time with Hrynewich second individually and Smith fourth.
Mona Shores made it three straight last fall with a 27-stroke win, shooting a 661 at Katke-Cousins Golf Course at Oakland University. Smith finished third individually and Hrynewich tied for fifth, as all five Sailors shot 172 or lower.
The four seniors were beneficiaries of a good boost coming into high school, as Mona Shores was coming off a tie for fourth at the 2008 Division 2 Final. But this group was an obvious difference-maker; prior to 2008, Mona Shores hadn’t qualified for the Finals in at least a decade, and had never won an MHSAA title.
“If you would’ve asked me when they were freshmen four years ago, I would’ve said they were acquaintances,” Brainard said of his seniors. “But they’ve become competitive with each other, and they’ve grown and become friends.”
Mona Shores has won all of its events this fall, with tremendous scores along the way. The Sailors set their team record, 296, while playing in the O-K Black postseason tournament at The Meadows. At a jamboree earlier this season, Smith shot a 34 to break the individual nine-hole record, only to have Hrynewich card a 33 that same day – and then a 32 later on. Those two are tied for the school record for 18 holes at 70 strokes, both shooting that score at The Meadows – Hrynewich at the O-K Black preseason tournament and Smith at the postseason championship when the Sailors set their team record.
Good golf has become a part of Mona Shores culture. The boys team – featuring Hrynewich’s twin brother Reed – finished third at the Division 1 Final this spring. Brainard pointed to Oak Ridge Golf Club and the Muskegon Country Club because of how they've welcomed youth golfers, and the community's junior programs are thriving and filling the high school programs with talent.
The boys program has won four MHSAA titles, and it’s difficult to imagine the girls not equaling that total and extending their streak next weekend. Hailey Hrynewich won Wednesday’s Regional at Bowen Lake Links with a 76, followed by Smith with a 79 and Gielow and McKinley among those tied for third with 81s. Sophomore Rylee George’s score didn’t count toward the team title, but she finished 13th with a 93.
Hrynewich and Smith have taken their turns finishing first and second for the Sailors all season and sport stroke averages that again compare with the state's elite. Hrynewich averages 37 strokes for nine-hole matches and 74.8 for 18-hole events, while Smith – who has committed to play at Oakland next season – is averaging 38.8 and 76.1, respectively.
Right behind are Gielow (39.6/81.5) and McKinley (41/80.9). George (43.8/88.9) and freshman Sami Pyman (46.7/91.6) are among those expected to move up the lineup next fall, and have provided solid punch playing behind their older teammates.
Brainard said he and his seniors had a laugh recently remembering how some shot in the 90s and even north of 100 during freshman tryouts four seasons ago. But they’ve all improved significantly during this run, and they all know what it will take to finish what can become an unprecedented run.
“Yesterday we met at 7 (a.m.) to get in the van and go, and if it was a month ago that we had to meet at 7, they would’ve been dead tired,” Brainard said. “But they were flying high.
“They understand it. With golf, yesterday was the day they had to perform. Of all the tournaments and meets that we do, we want to win (now) and do the best that we can.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores senior Morgan Smith lines up a putt during last season's Division 2 Final at Katke-Cousins Golf Course. (Middle) The Sailors, including coach John Brainard, accept their third-straight MHSAA championship trophy after last season's win.