By John Vrancic
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA — After nearly 40 years of trying, Bark River-Harris finally has an Upper Peninsula girls golf championship to call its own.
The Broncos captured their first Division 3 title on a sunny and mild Thursday with 415 strokes. They were followed by Crystal Fall Forest Park with 441 and Ontonagon at 464.
“I thought this was going to be very tight,” said BR-H coach Scott Farnsworth. “Forest Park has four seniors and a very strong program. I honestly thought it would be within a few strokes.”
BR-H senior Savana Stenberg also was crowned individual champion for the first time, edging DeTour freshman Madison Wilkie on a tie-breaker.
Nerves were evident as both girls needed five strokes to complete the playoff hole, with each missing a three-foot putt before finding the bottom of the cup.
During the playoff, Wilkie inadvertently picked up the ball while it was lying on the fringe. After the hole was done, Stenberg was declared the winner following a brief meeting of the coaches involved and course officials.
“Yes, I did touch it,” Wilkie acknowledged. “I just kind of forgot myself at the moment.”
The girls set themselves up with strong tee shots that landed about halfway down and on the left side of the fairway, followed by solid approach shots.
“I think we should have played another hole,” Stenberg said. “On the course, I wasn’t nervous. But the playoff hole was nerve-wracking. I tried to think I was by myself. I usually tell myself I have to do well. But it seemed like I couldn’t play at all today. My putting was way off.
“It’s just a relief to get this meet in and come out on top. This is also kind of sad because it’s my last high school meet, although I’ll be playing in a junior league this summer.”
Both girls recorded a 91 through the 18 regulation holes, setting the stage for the playoff.
“I didn’t think I’d do very good because I four-putted the first hole,“ Wilkie said. “I just had to forget about it. We still had 17 more holes. I did well on the par-5s. My drives were pretty good, but my approach shots worked the best. This was definitely a learning experience.”
BR-H sophomore Hannah Starnes placed third with 94, followed by Mid Peninsula junior Hunter Branstrom at 95 and Cedarville sophomore Anna Eberts at 97.
“I was real nervous on the front nine, but played my game on the back nine,” Starnes said. “I calmed down once we got to the back nine. I didn’t overthink anything and established a rhythm.”
The Broncos were runners-up and Stenberg placed third at the 2013 Final at Highland Golf Club in nearby Hyde.
“Winning this meet was our goal all year,” Farnsworth said. “With the talent we had, I thought we could get there. These girls are hard workers. They deserve this because they’ve put the time and effort into it.”
Forest Park was led by Anne Taylor with 107 strokes, followed by Toni Santi at 109.
“All the girls played well,” Forest Park coach Harold Payne said. “We played for only three weeks this year because of the (unseasonably cold) weather.
“This is a great group of girls. We’re senior-dominated, although our sophomore had the lowest score. Among our six golfers, we’re losing four good seniors. Each year you’re dealt a new hand, which makes it exciting. The challenge is keeping kids interested and hopefully pick up a few more.”
Click for full results.
PHOTOS: (Top) Savanna Stenberg of Bark River-Harris chips out of a hazard and onto the No. 10 green Thursday during the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final at Escanaba Country Club. (Middle) Hunter Branstrom of Rock Mid Peninsula sends a shot from the No. 1 fairway. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)