By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
ALLENDALE – Repeating was the theme of the weekend at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Girls Golf Final.
Not only was Muskegon Mona Shores looking for a fourth straight team championship, but Okemos junior Elle Nichols had her sights set on repeating as the individual medalist at The Meadows Golf Course on the campus of Grand Valley State University.
In the end, both the Sailors and Nichols accomplished their goals, but not without plenty of thrills along the way. On the team front, Mona Shores became the first girls golf team to win four straight Lower Peninsula championships. The Sailors also came full circle as their two-day total of 666 matched the score they shot in winning the 2009 title with four of the same players.
Mona Shores led the tournament at the end of the first day with a 341 and came back on Saturday to shoot a 325. Battle Creek Lakeview finished second with a score of 707 while Okemos took third with a 711.
“We talked about the butterflies after the first day,” Mona Shores coach John Brainard said. “We talked Saturday morning about getting rid of the butterflies. About getting a fire in our bellies instead and going out after it.”
That was exactly what the Sailors did, as seniors Hailey Hrynewich and Morgan Smith led the way with scores of 79 while fellow seniors Britni Gielow and Kelsey McKinley shot rounds of 83 and 84, respectively. All four have been among the team’s top five for all four championships.
“It feels so great to win it again,” Hrynewich said. “That was our goal from day one this season, to win a fourth state title. There was a lot more pressure on us this year. Everyone knew we were going for our fourth in a row, but we knew we had to do it."
The title was bittersweet for Brainard, who will say goodbye to his special senior class.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Brainard said. “These four seniors are very special. They set the state record that no other team has done before.”
With a fourth title heading to the trophy case, Brainard is already looking ahead to a possible fifth next year.
“That’s my job,” Brainard said. “I’ve already started looking ahead. I started last summer getting some girls out for the junior varsity team, and we’re going to work on getting some more golfers out.”
While the Sailors won by 14 strokes, Nichols had a much closer margin of victory as she had to go to a three-person playoff to repeat as champion by one stroke.
Nichols was in third place, three strokes out of first as she carded an 81 on Friday. She came back Saturday and fired a 77 to finish with a 36-hole total of 158. Hrynewich came in with scores of 79 on both days to also finish with a 158, while East Lansing senior Kristyn Crippen, who was the Division 2 runner-up last fall, shot a 76 on Saturday to go with Friday’s round of 82.
The three golfers then played the treacherous 18th hole. Nichols’ second shot landed short of the green in the tall grass that was even more of a hazard due to the heavy rain from the previous two days. However, she was up to the challenge as she blasted a shot out of the tall grass and mud and onto the green some 40 feet beyond the hole. From there, it was a 40-foot, downhill put for par. Nichols sent the ball on a smooth line to the hole, but once it arrived at its destination the ball jumped just over the lip.
After her opponents missed their bogey putts, Nichols sank her next to edge Hrynewich and Crippen by a stroke and win the playoff.
“I knew somehow I had to get out of the gunk,” Nichols said. “I knew if I could get out of that I had a chance. My first putt lipped out, but then I got my second putt to go in.”
Nichols saved her best putts until the end, according to her coach Dan Stolz.
“Elle didn’t play her best,” Stolz said. “She struggled with her putting some, but then she almost holed that 40-footer that went around the lip. She had eight or nine three-putts, and if she made some of those it wouldn’t have been as close.”
Or as dramatic.
“It was really exciting,” Nichols said. “I was not sure it was going to happen, but I had been there before so I had confidence that I could do it again. I won state last year and knew that I could get it done.”
For Hrynewich, who was on the green in two, the sting of losing the playoff was soothed by the thought of being a four-time team champion with her classmates.
“I thought I had it, but then I missed that putt,” Hrynewich said. “It was disappointing to lose in the playoff, but we won the team championship, and that was the big thing. Winning our fourth team title was what we I really wanted more then anything.”
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PHOTO: (Top) Muskegon Mona Shores' Hailey Hrynewich, East Lansing's Kristyn Crippen and Okemos' Elle Nichols shake hands after their playoff hole ended with Nichols winning her second MHSAA championship. (Middle) Mona Shores receives the Division 2 team trophy for the fourth straight season. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)