By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
ALLENDALE – It was extremely close going into Saturday’s final round of the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final, with the only question being which Detroit-area girls golf powerhouse would prevail.
But unranked Traverse City West had other ideas.
Perhaps benefiting from its northerly location during the occasional snow flurries – and definitely benefiting from freshman standout Anika Dy – the Titans stunned the state by nipping Rochester on the fifth player tie-breaker to claim the championship at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.
“My attitude coming in is that I would be ecstatic if we could make the top five,” said sixth-year Traverse City West coach Kristen Nolan. “When we won it, it kind of blew me away.”
Traverse City West won its first-ever MHSAA girls golf championship the old-fashioned way, with all four of its top players improving on their score from Friday’s opening round.
That improvement allowed the Titans, who were in fourth after the opening round, to move past Bloomfield Hills and last year’s runner-up, Lake Orion, and into a tie with tournament favorite and first-day leader Rochester.
The tie-breaker is the combined two-day score of each team’s fifth player, and that’s where TC West junior Grace Warren made her huge contribution, as her rounds of 94 and 99 were enough to give her team the championship.
The leader of the Titans was Dy, a 14-year-old freshman, who was the only player in the field to shoot two rounds in the 70s. Dy’s rounds of 79 and 77 gave her a two-day total of 156, putting her second overall and one shot behind junior medalist Julia Dean of Brighton.
“We are all shocked and these are tears of joy on my face,” said Dy, the freshman leader of a Titans’ top five with no seniors, but also three juniors and one sophomore. “I think it does help that we play in a lot of bad weather; that didn’t bother us too much. I didn’t putt very good at all. If I had made a few more putts, it wouldn’t have come down to a tie-breaker.”
Temperatures were in the mid-40s during Saturday’s final round, but steady winds of 12 mph out of the north (gusting as high as 25 mph), made it feel closer to freezing at times on the par-73 course. Both rounds were dry for the most part, except for a few stray raindrops on Friday and a brief blast of snow showers late in Saturday’s round.
Those conditions produced bloated scores up and down the board, and it was the most northern of the 15 teams which plodded through the difficult conditions the best.
In addition to Dy’s terrific performance in her first MHSAA Final, TC West got solid efforts from juniors Hunter Kehoe (87-80) and Grace Ellul (88-87) and sophomore Madison McCall (97-93).
“It’s not like we came out of nowhere,” said Nolan, the Traverse City West coach and former player at Troy Athens. “We won six tournaments in a row earlier this year, then we took a second, then we won a couple of more. But we’re from up north, so sometimes people don’t hear about us.”
Rochester, which was looking to win its first MHSAA championship since back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, received consistent performances from its top two players, juniors Veronica Haque (80-80) and Brooke Busse (85-85). Like Traverse City West, Rochester had no seniors in its top five.
TC West and Rochester emerged from a bunched pack in perhaps the closest overall team competition in girls golf finals history, with eight teams within 15 shots. Bloomfield Hills (692) placed third, followed by Troy (695), Novi (696), Saline (697) and Lake Orion and Farmington Hills Mercy (tied at 700).
The photo finishes weren’t confined to the battle for the team title.
Brighton’s Dean shot a remarkable even-par 73 in Saturday’s wintery weather to win individual medalist honors by one shot.
“I started making some putts today,” said Dean, who shot an 82 in Friday’s opening round, making her two-day total of 155 a shot better than TC West’s Dy. “My goal was to try and get every putt two feet past, and a few of them went in.”
The highlights of Dean’s round were birdies on holes 6, 9 and 14.
Rounding out the top five individuals after Dean and Dy were Lake Orion’s Moyea Russell (158), Rochester Hills Stoney Creek’s Lauren Ingle (158), Rochester’s Haque (160) and Saline’s Samantha Kellstrom (160).
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PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West golfers hold up their championship trophy Saturday at The Meadows. (Middle) Snow began to fall as this Northville golfer lines up a putt. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)