By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan will say good-bye to an accomplished senior class during this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals.
Competing for the last time are a pair of standouts who have combined for three individual championships, more who have finished in the hunt two and three seasons, plus a number of others who have been part of multiple team championships or had their teams in contention multiple times in the past.
See below for golfers to watch at all four MHSAA Finals this weekend. Play begins at 10 a.m. both days, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and all Regional scores from last week.
LP Division 1 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East
This again is forecast as a close race. The top eight teams last season finished within 15 strokes of each other. Then-unranked Traverse City West came from fourth place and five strokes back last season to win the championship over Rochester on a fifth-player tie-breaker – and most of their lineups are back for a rematch.
Top-ranked: 1. Rochester, 2. Traverse City West, 3. Brighton.
Rochester: The Falcons have to be favorites again after shooting an incredible 289 to win their Regional at Twin Oaks in Oakland Township. All five golfers finished among the top seven individuals last week – senior Brooke Busse shot a 69 to finish first and senior Veronica Haque and freshman Savannah Haque tied for second at 72 – and Busse, Veronica Haque, senior Erica Yang and junior Keri Yang made up the top four of last year’s Finals lineup. Veronica Haque tied for fifth individually at last year's Final.
Traverse City West: The Titans haven’t surprised anyone this fall, with last year’s top four Finals scorers back in the lineup and all five at last week’s Regional at The Meadows finishing among the top 10 individuals. Sophomore Anika Dy was first with a 70 and senior Hunter Kehoe was second at 76 as West shot a 309 to win the Regional, and Dy should be in the mix for the individual medal this weekend after finishing second to Brighton's Julia Dean by a stroke in 2015.
Brighton: The Bulldogs have remained elite even without reigning Miss Golf Dean topping the lineup; she was injured before the season according to a report by the Livingston Daily Argus & Press and did not return. But sophomore Annie Pietila, junior Heather Fortushniak and sophomore Autumn Blaney also were in the lineup at last season’s Final when the team finished ninth. Brighton repeated as Regional champion at Hartland Glen shooting a 314 with Pietila the individual medalist at 71 and Fortushniak third at 76 as all five players finished 14th or better. The Bulldogs finished second by a stroke to No. 8 Novi at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament Monday and will have no problem playing with the best.
Other individuals of note: All but one of the 11 players who finished tied for 10th or higher are back. Lake Orion senior Moyea Russell led her team to a Regional championship at WestWynd in Oakland Township with a first-place 77, and she's coming off a tie for third at last year's Final with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior Lauren Ingle, who finished fourth last week at Twin Lakes behind the three Rochester leaders. Five more top-10 finishers from 2015 also are back this weekend – North Farmington junior Alana Jones, Davison senior Kamryn Johnston and Novi senior Alexa Hatz all tied for seventh last year, and Grand Blanc senior Cammi Lucia and Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Katie Mina-Lee tied for 10th. Saline junior Catherine Loftus and Farmington Hills Mercy sophomore Mia Sooch also were Regional champions last week.
LP Division 2 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University
Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. South Lyon, 3. St. Joseph.
After finishing second to Birmingham Seaholm by 13 strokes last season – but ahead of the rest of the field by 15 – Dow is considered the favorite after another dominating season in the mid-Michigan area. South Lyon was third and St. Joseph fifth last season and they could make this a little closer than a year ago, when Seaholm led Dow by just two strokes after the first round before breaking away.
Midland Dow: This will be the final high school run for senior Stephanie Carras, who finished second individually at last year’s Final, fourth as a sophomore and third as a freshman. She finished second at the Regional at Greenville’s Bowen Lake to junior sister Alexis Carras, who shot a 70, and senior Caroline Szabo came in fifth that day. Alexis Carras tied for third at last season’s Final, and senior Morgan Deiters, 16th at the Regional last week, also played in the Finals lineup in 2015.
South Lyon: The Lions also return three players from last season’s Finals lineup, led by junior Elizabeth Harding, who finished second at the Regional at Mason’s El Dorado and 10th in Division 2 in 2015. Junior Sophie Yergin and senior Mya Price also are back from last season, and Price is the only player in the top five graduating next spring. South Lyon won its Regional by four strokes with all five players finishing among the top 21, with Yergin next best in 10th.
St. Joseph: The Bears will bring to Allendale one of the most experienced groups in any division, with five players who got in swings at the 2015 Final (senior Kaylee Sharai and junior Katie Schmidt both played one round in the fifth spot). Sophomore Cailey Rooker, junior Maddie Wright and Sharai (tied for third) took the top three places, respectively, at the Regional at Battle Creek’s Cedar Creek last week, and Rooker finished just a stroke outside the top 10 at last year’s Final.
Other individuals of note: Muskegon Reeths-Puffer sophomore Karina VanDuinen won Division 2 last season as a freshman, edging Stephanie Carras by two strokes, and is back after helping her team to a runner-up Regional finish while finishing third individually at Muskegon Country Club. Flushing senior Kerrigan Parks was first and Bloomfield Hills Marian junior Alexandra Robb tied for third at the Flint Elks Club Regional after coming in fifth and tied for sixth, respectively, at the 2015 Final. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sophomore Kay Zubkus was the Regional medalist in Muskegon with a 79 and Walled Lake Western senior Shana Murphy won at El Dorado with a 71. Farmington senior Elle Greenlee won the Regional at Monroe Country Club with an 83.
LP Division 3 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Flint Powers Catholic, 3. Spring Lake.
Spring Lake repeated as champion last season by an incredible 70 strokes over runner-up Goodrich at Forest Akers West with a 325 first round and 336 second. But Cranbrook Kingswood finished second three straight seasons from 2012-14 and should make a run at its first title since 2006. Powers didn’t make the Final at all in 2015, but is expected to push the Cranes for a first championship since 2008.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: Juniors Kate Cao and Carmen Chan are the only returnees from last season’s Finals five, but they tied for the Regional championship at Fieldstone in Auburn Hills with 78s as all five Cranes finished among the top 12 places last week. Cao and Chan also were starters on the team that finished Division 3 runner-up in 2014.
Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers won their Regional at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc ahead of No. 4 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and No. 5 Goodrich, placing four among the top eight and all five among the top 15. Although Powers missed the Finals last fall, seniors Madison Zloto, Lizzy Marlinga and Ameila Gavulic all started for the team that finished eighth in Division 4 in 2014.
Spring Lake: A team that got a taste of winning big at last year’s Final also did so last week at the Regional at White Lake in Whitehall, finishing 56 strokes ahead of the field with senior Anna Kramer taking first, junior Madelyn Nelson and senior Jaedyn Shelton tying for second and all five golfers finishing among the top 11. Kramer is the reigning individual Division 3 Final champion, and she also took second as a sophomore and fourth as a freshman.
Other individuals of note: Four more top-10 finishers from last season will join Kramer again this weekend. Notre Dame Prep sophomore Danielle Staskowski was fourth at the 2015 Final and won the Regional last week at Warwick Hills, where she was followed in second by Goodrich senior Sydni Harding – who also followed Staskowski in fifth last season at Forest Akers West. Detroit Country Day senior Mallika Brar was eighth last season and finished third at Fieldstone, and Plainwell senior Madison Tran was ninth last year and won last week’s Regional at Marshall Country Club. Hastings senior Jackie Nevins also comes into this weekend as a Regional champion after winning by six strokes at Stonewater in Caledonia, and Adrian senior Ashley Rincon won her Regional at Hankerd Hills in Pleasant Lake by two strokes.
LP Division 4 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Macomb Lutheran North, 2. Kalamazoo Hackett, 3. Livonia Ladywood.
Hackett has claimed the last two Division 4 championships and is expected to be in the mix again this weekend – although last season’s runner-up Lutheran North is the favorite. Those two cleared the rest of the field last year by 29 strokes – Hackett by 38, winning by nine – but the standings could be closer this time with more experienced standouts returning.
Macomb Lutheran North: All three players who finished among the individual top 10 at last season’s Final are back to lead the lineup this weekend after Lutheran North won the Regional at Heather Hills in Romeo by 20 strokes over Ladywood. Senior Sydney Martens won the Regional, while junior Serena Nguyen was third and sophomore Kaity Rittner was sixth as all five players placed among the top nine. Nguyen was fourth, Martens ninth and Rittner 10th at last season’s Final at Forest Akers East.
Kalamazoo Hackett: Similar to Lutheran North, Hackett brings back a powerful trio from 2015. Senior Naomi Keyte won the Regional at Silver Lake Country Club in Rockford, with junior Molly Clark third and sophomore Emily Stull fourth. Keyte was third and Stull tied for sixth at last year’s Final, and Stull was ninth as a freshman in 2014 with Keyte joining her in that championship lineup as well.
Livonia Ladywood: The Blazers bring back four players this weekend who helped the team finish fourth a year ago – and 26 strokes ahead of third-place and No. 6-ranked Almont at the Regional last week. Seniors Jordyn Rioux (second place) and Lydia Cranmer (fourth), junior Gabriella Scopone (ninth) and sophomore Evelyn Kruger (15th) carded scores at the Regional and were in the Finals lineup last year as well, Rioux missing the individual top 10 at Forest Akers East by a stroke.
Other individuals of note: Reigning champion Nichole Cox from Maple City Glen Lake will be playing her final high school event of a career that also has included the Division 4 championship as a sophomore and a third place as a freshman. Similarly, Frankenmuth’s Meg Watkins will cap her career after finishing second last season and sixth as both a sophomore and freshman. Cox shot a 79 at Manistee Country Club last week to win that Regional by eight strokes, and Watkins won her Regional by six strokes with an 85 at Brookside in Gowen. Lansing Catholic senior Abigail Meder won her Regional at Glenbrier in Perry, and Brooklyn Columbia Central sophomore Alissa Fish was the medalist at Devil’s Lake in Manitou Beach.
PHOTO: Lansing Catholic’s Abigail Meder attempts to send her ball out of the rough on the way to winning the Alma Invitational in September. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)