By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Three reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula golf champions entered Regionals last week ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions by the state coaches association.
But that also means there are 17 more teams in each of those divisions revved up to surprise at this weekend’s Finals – plus a more wide-open Division 3 race to watch after Tawas pulled off a stunner just a year ago.
In Division 1, Detroit Catholic Central is the two-time reigning champion, while St. Johns returns all of its 2016 Division 2 title-winning team and Clarkston Everest Collegiate brings back most of the lineup that dominated Division 4 last season. Tawas is expected to be in the Division 3 mix again, although a few of the usual powers are ranked slightly ahead with the first drives about to be hit.
Below are a handful of expected team and individual favorites at each Final. First-round play tees off at 9 a.m. Friday, with the final round beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. Click for a full list of Finals qualifiers and Regional results.
LP Division 1 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Detroit Catholic Central, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Clarkston.
Detroit Catholic Central has won the last two Division 1 championships and continued to dominate this spring. But Grosse Pointe South comes into the weekend as the expected biggest competitor after also finishing second a year ago, eight strokes back. At 285 and 296, respectively, those two posted the lowest Regional scores in Division 1 last week.
Detroit Catholic Central: Five seniors will take the course for the Shamrocks, including four who also were in last season’s lineup that broke 300 in both rounds – James Piot, Ben Smith, Sean Niles and Sean Sooch. Smith and Piot tied for fifth individually last season, while Smith was third and Piot tied for eighth when they were sophomores. DCC won its Regional at Durham Hills in Hartland by 29 strokes as those four players placed among the top three (Niles shooting a 70 to win), and senior Dylan Skinner finished sixth individually.
Grosse Pointe South: The Blue Devils are seeking their first MHSAA boys golf championship with a veteran lineup as well. Senior Oliver Livingston, juniors Evan Theros and Patrick Sullivan and sophomore Coalter Smith were part of last season’s runner-up lineup, with Livingston placing third and Theros tying for fifth individually. Sullivan and Theros tied for first at the Regional last week at Dearborn Country Club as the team won by 12 strokes ahead of No. 4 Birmingham Seaholm.
Clarkston: The Wolves are back at the Finals as a full team for the first time since 2014. Senior Brady Dice is the lone player left from that 11th-place finisher, and he tied with DCC’s Piot and Niles for third at last week’s Regional as Clarkston as a team finished second, 29 strokes back but one ahead of No. 8 Hartland. Senior Noah Sampson and three sophomores will get their first swings in MHSAA Finals play.
Other individuals of note: Plymouth senior Jack Boczar took eventual champion Andrew Walker of Battle Creek Lakeview to a playoff for the individual title last season and won his Regional last week at Pine View in Ypsilanti. Utica Ford senior Drew Tucci’s 71 was the second-lowest Regional score in the division last week and earned him the medalist honor at Twin Lakes in Oakland. Midland junior Drew Gandy also tied for fifth at last season’s Final and was runner-up at last week’s Regional at Metamora Country Club to Saginaw Heritage sophomore Amav Sharma. Battle Creek Lakeview senior James Staab – his team’s second-lowest scorer to Walker at last year’s Final – won the Regional last week at Grand Rapids’ Thornapple Pointe to join Sharma this weekend among individual qualifiers.
LP Division 2 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University
Top-ranked: 1. St. Johns, 2. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 3. Flint Powers Catholic.
The Redwings broke 300 in both rounds last year to win a tightly-contested first championship by four strokes over local rival East Lansing. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep is expected to make a big jump after tying for seventh last season, and Powers is a contender as well after tying for ninth in Division 3 last spring and welcoming back this season its low scorer from a year playing at an academy.
St. Johns: The Redwings this weekend will return with the full lineup that won last season’s Final – seniors Zach Rosendale, Eric Nunn, Jack Bouck and Nate Brown and junior Zeke Ely. Nunn tied for first individually last season before falling in the playoff, while Rosendale was fifth. Rosendale was the Regional medalist last week on their home course, The Emerald, although St. Johns as a team came in only second to Powers.
Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers are coming off their three-stroke Regional win over St. Johns and look poised to make a run. Senior Joe Coriasso is the only returnee from last season’s lineup and just missed the individual top 10 at the 2016 Division 3 Final. But the return of senior Blaise Vanitvelt has made a heavy impact; he was the team’s low scorer in 2015 when it finished fourth in Division 3, and he tied his freshman brother Ty Vanitvelt and two others for seventh at last week’s Regional while junior Zach Hopkins came in fourth.
Gaylord: The Blue Devils earned a larger mention here because they won their Regional at Lincoln Hills in Ludington and have finished first in 10 straight events – an especially incredible string after the team missed making the Finals last year with a ninth-place Regional finish. Three sophomores, a junior and a senior make up the lineup, with sophomore Brendon Gouin, junior Nick Rowley and sophomore Kyle Putnam coming in second, third and ninth, respectively, last week.
Other individuals of note: Reigning champion Devin Deogun leads the way as a senior for Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, which also could figure into the team conversation. Four more top-10 finishers from a year ago are back: Detroit Country Day senior Imaad Qureshi and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior Jackson Stowe, who tied for sixth, East Lansing senior Tony Fuentes (eighth) and Otsego senior Tyler Rayman (10th). Deogun shot a 69 to win his Regional at Fieldstone in Auburn Hills. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sophomore Andrew Kolar, Coldwater senior Cameron Ruge, Trenton junior Brent Trela and Spring Lake sophomore Nick Krueger also were Regional medalists last week.
LP Division 3 at Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Course
Top-ranked: 1. Jackson Lumen Christi, 2. Big Rapids, 3. Tawas.
Tawas is coming off its first MHSAA championship in any sport. Lumen Christi is a slight favorite, perhaps, after finishing only three strokes back last spring and with seven top-two Finals finishes over the last eight seasons. Big Rapids has three top-two finishes over the last nine seasons and will go for its first title since 2008 after coming in third a year ago.
Jackson Lumen Christi: The Titans will bring back three of their five from last season’s Final, with senior Logan Anuskiewicz coming off a ninth-place tie individually last spring. All five players finished among the top nine (with ties) at last week’s Regional at Glenbrier in Perry, which Lumen Christi won by 14 strokes ahead of No. 4 Hanover-Horton and No. 7 Lansing Catholic. Senior Riley Hestwood led the way, tying for second.
Big Rapids: Four of five from last season’s third-place team will golf this weekend, with senior Tait Morrissey and junior Fletcher Bolda expected to play in their third straight Final. Sophomore Pierce Morrissey missed the top 10 last season by four strokes, but won the Regional at Byron Center’s Railside last week with a 70. Tait Morrissey was seventh at the Regional, and junior Ben Fath was 11th.
Tawas: Three who golfed at least one round at last season’s Finals are back for this weekend – senior Andrew Volk and juniors Daniel Shattuck and Mason Buresh. Volk missed the top 10 individuals last season by only two strokes, but Tawas won based on the strength of a lineup that saw all four scorers shoot over a six-stroke range. The Braves finished second at their Regional, six strokes behind No. 6 Charlevoix, but with Shattuck coming in third and Volk tied for fifth at The Nightmare in West Branch.
Other individuals of note: Houghton Lake junior Brock Decker, an individual qualifier, is the only other top-10 finisher back from a year ago; he placed ninth in 2016. The Regional champions’ variety of scores – from 70 to 79 – indicate the possibility for a tightly-packed group of contenders. Charlevoix senior Matt Good, Schoolcraft senior Nick Jasiak, Byron senior Brandt Nelson, Bad Axe senior Ethan Krohn and Richmond senior Noah Kosal also won Regional titles. Another to watch could be Portland freshman Zach Pier, who shot a 73 to finish second to Morrissey at Railside.
LP Division 4 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 2. Muskegon Catholic Central, 3. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate is the reigning champion and favorite after last season’s 28-stroke win. Muskegon Catholic Central was third last spring, and NorthPointe is expected to join the mix after finishing fourth in Division 3 a year ago.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate: Four return from the team that shot a two-day 637 at Forest Akers West, led by lone senior Joey McMahon, who tied for sixth individually in 2016. Two juniors and two sophomores indicate the Mountaineers should continue to shine after this season as well; sophomore Mitch Lowney won the Regional at Heather Highlands in Holly, with McMahon runner-up, junior Nick Korns tied for fifth and junior J.C. James tied for seventh.
Muskegon Catholic Central: The Crusaders are loaded with five seniors, with Collin Powers leading the way after tying for third individually a year ago. Three others also played on that third-place team, and those four also played at least a round when the team finished ninth in 2015. They finished only third at their Regional behind NorthPointe and No. 10 Lansing Christian at Hastings Country Club, but Powers did finish second and all five were among the top 20 individuals.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: As just noted above, NorthPointe won its Regional by 14 strokes with junior Hayden VanErman taking first, sophomore Erik Fahlen fourth and junior Logan Holtkamp fifth. The lineup is made up of three juniors, Fahlen and a freshman, with the three mentioned above also part of that fourth-place team in Division 3 last season.
Other individuals of note: Six of the top 10 from last year give Division 4 arguably the strongest individual field, led by reigning champion Parker Jamieson. The Pilgrims junior won last season’s title by two strokes, while White Pigeon senior Jordan Olsen and Kalamazoo Christian junior Colin Sikkenga tied for third and Clinton sophomore Austin Fauser is back after placing ninth. Fauser won his Regional last week and Sikkenga tied for medalist with Kalamazoo Hackett senior Henry Hedeman just ahead of Olsen at Klinger Lake Country Club in Sturgis. New Lothrop senior Drew Dice and Harbor Springs junior Cole Ketterer also won Regional titles, and Jamieson was third at Hastings behind VanErmen and Powers.
NOTE: West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy will play its Division 4 rounds Thursday and Friday.
PHOTO: St. Johns’ Zach Rosendale watches an approach during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final; his entire team returns this weekend for a repeat attempt. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)