By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The champs are here. But will they reign again?
All four MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals this weekend will welcome back last season’s champions – and all four of those teams also happen to be ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions by the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association.
Below is a glance at the expected contenders in all four divisions, plus individuals who appear strong candidates to figure into the final standings. Play begins at 10 a.m. both Friday and Saturday, and come back Saturday evening for coverage of all four championship tournaments on Second Half. Click for a list of all Finals qualifiers and Regional scores from last week.
Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Plymouth.
This decade has seen seven schools win Division 1 at least once. Northville has followed up last year’s start-to-finish dominance with another memorable run as it looks to repeat as champion. Plymouth is back in the mix as well after finishing runner-up in 2018, its best at the Finals since claiming Division 1 titles back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. Grosse Pointe South is seeking its highest finish since winning the championship in 2011.
Northville: The Mustangs cleared the Finals field by 31 strokes last season and have been ranked No. 1 for the entirety of this one. Three of last season’s top five will be back this weekend – senior Sufna Gill was fifth at last year’s Final, but fourth among her teammates at this year’s Regional as all five finished among the top eight at Links of Novi. Senior Sedona Shipka, another returnee, led the 23-stroke Regional win finishing third overall, and freshman Samantha Coleman tied for fourth. Junior Katelyn Tokarz also returns and took sixth, and sophomore Megha Vallabhaneni tied for eighth as the team shot a Division 1-best 313.
Grosse Pointe South: The Blue Devils are expected to make a big jump after tying for eighth last season, with four players back from that lineup. South shot a 335 to win its Regional at Fox Creek in Livonia, with all five golfers finishing among the top 10 individuals. Junior Audrey Becker led as medalist, with senior Kaitlin Ifkovits second, sophomore Sabel Imesch fourth, senior Mia Rancilio fifth and junior Alston Smith tied for 10th. Ifkovits will be playing in her fourth Finals.
Plymouth: The Wildcats were second to Northville at Links of Novi, shooting a 336 that tied for third-lowest at a Division 1 Regional. Sophomore Bridget Boczar finished eighth at last season’s Final and took second at last week’s Regional, two strokes behind twin Grace Boczar. Senior Grace Iacopelli also is back from last season’s lineup.
More individuals of note: After Traverse City West grad Anika Dy won the last three Division 1 individual championships, this year’s race should be more wide open – and with a number of contenders capable of rising to the top. Utica Eisenhower junior Ariel Chang tied for sixth as a freshman and finished third last season. Rochester senior Savannah Haque was second as a sophomore and ninth last year. Dy’s younger sister Anci Dy, now a junior, tied with Gill for fifth a year ago and tied for sixth in 2017. Then add in Okemos sophomore Allison Cui, who tied for first in Division 2 last fall and ended up runner-up after a playoff. Dy, Chang and Cui also were Regional champs last week, and Troy junior Jennifer Liu and Rochester Adams freshman Grace Wang tied for their Regional’s medalist honor. Haque, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Amaya Melendez and Grand Blanc freshman Kate Brody also shot in the 70s during Regionals.
Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. Birmingham Groves, 3. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.
Forest Hills Northern is playing for its third straight team championship, having won the last two seasons by 12 and 24 strokes, respectively. Groves will aim to break the streak with a little history – the team is playing for its first Finals title in this sport, with its highest past finish a second place in 1984. Forest Hills Central also is playing for its first girls golf title at this level, as are total eight of the top-10 ranked teams.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Last season’s medalist Kay Zubkus graduated, but five more golfers who played at least a round during last season’s Final are back. Junior Lilia Henkel tied for third after finishing seventh as a freshman, and she took second at her Regional at Egypt Valley last week behind only junior teammate Anna Fay – who finished ninth at the 2018 Final. All five FHN golfers placed among the top 11 at the Regional – senior Rylee Walters was third, senior Ava Frost seventh and junior Baylee Walters 11th as the team shot a 326 against a field that also included Forest Hills Central.
Birmingham Groves: The Falcons have missed qualifying for the Finals as a team the last two seasons, but senior Chloe Collon will be playing in her fourth Finals after making the field individually as a sophomore and junior and when the team finished 14th in 2016. Groves edged Port Huron Northern by three strokes to win the Regional at Farmington Hills Golf Course, where Collon finished second and sophomore sister Eve Collon tied for seventh.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central: The Rangers jumped from 15th in 2017 to seventh last year and should make a run at least at their first top-two finish if not more. Three of six from last year’s Finals lineup are back, and all three finished among the top eight at Egypt Valley as the team came in second to Forest Hills Northern. Seniors Ally Ringler and Mandy Ehrlich tied for fifth and junior Maddie Knoor was eighth at the Regional. Ringler and Knoor also played at the 2017 Final.
Other individuals of note: With one top-three finisher moving to Division 1 and another to Division 3, only Forest Hills Northern’s Henkel and Fay are back from last year’s top 10. Joining Fay as Regional champions last week were Petoskey senior Ashley Lamb, Zeeland West senior Phloy Wongvilart, St. Johns’ senior Tuesday Lewis, South Lyon junior Katherine Potter and Port Huron Northern sophomore Madison Bajis. Lamb, Potter, Lewis, Wongvilart, Henkel, Fay and Pinckney junior Olivia Ohmer (in finishing second to Lewis) all broke 80 during those rounds.
Lower Peninsula Division 3 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State
Top-ranked: 1. Flint Powers Catholic, 2. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 3. Big Rapids.
Powers is the reigning champion after last year winning its first Final since 2008. But a repeat run faces a sizable obstacle in Marian, which finished fifth in Division 2 in 2018. Big Rapids has a long record of success and will try to add its first top-two Finals finish.
Flint Powers Catholic: The Chargers won last fall’s championship by 32 strokes with two top-10 individual placers who both return along with a third starter. Junior Jolie Brochu ended up runner-up in 2018 after a tie-breaker hole, senior Maggie Knight finished fourth overall and sophomore Allie Sexton was the team’s fifth scorer. Knight was first, Brochu second, Sexton seventh and senior Brianna Ales eighth at last week’s Regional at Pine River in Alma.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: The Mustangs also finished seventh in Division 2 in 2016 and second in 2017, and they are led again by junior Shannon Kennedy – who won the Final as a freshman and tied for third last season. Three others who played at least a round at last season’s championship tournament also are back: senior Marlo Hudson will be playing in her fourth Final, junior Lauren Sass her third and junior Sarah Kuredjain her second. Marian won its Regional at Raisin Valley in Tecumseh by three strokes ahead of No. 4 Detroit Country Day, with Kennedy the medalist, Hudson coming in second and junior Laura Emerson tying for 10th.
Big Rapids: The Cardinals have finished 10th, 12th and seventh, respectively, the last three seasons and enter this weekend with their top four scorers making a return trip. Senior Hope Thebo tied for 10th individually last year and will be playing in her fourth Final. Junior Lauren Posey and senior Holly McKenna joined the Finals five in 2017 and junior Avery Chaput was the team’s fourth scorer a year ago. Big Rapids won its Regional at Katke by 50 strokes with Posey the medalist, Thebo and Chaput tied for third and McKenna tied for sixth.
Other individuals of note: Brochu is the top finisher of seven from last year’s top 10 (and ties) who will play again this weekend. Marshall senior Karlee Malone and Grand Rapids South Christian senior Maddie Wieringa tied for fifth last season and Marysville senior Madeline Blum and Carleton Airport junior Kristen Reed tied for 10th; Malone and Blum also won Regional titles last week. Grand Rapids Christian junior Ryann Breslin also is coming off a Regional title, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood sophomore Ashley Kong and Spring Lake senior Phoebe Saunders also broke 80 during last week’s MHSAA events.
Lower Peninsula Division 4 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley
Top-ranked: 1. Harbor Springs, 2. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 3. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep.
Harbor Springs has won the last two Division 4 championships and is favored to run the streak to three. Hackett also has won two championships this decade, in 2014 and 2015, and NorthPointe was the runner-up in 2013 and is seeking its first title. Lansing Catholic is ranked No. 4 and seeking its first top-two finish since winning three straight titles from 2010-12.
Harbor Springs: The Rams graduated two major scorers after last season’s repeat, but seniors Mackenzie Gillett and Evie Garver and junior Jacque O’Neill are back from last year’s top five to lead this weekend’s run. Harbor Springs won its Regional at Farwell’s Eagle Glen by 89 strokes, with O’Neill first, Garver second, sophomore Taylore Wilson third and senior Maggie Bailey tied for fifth. O’Neill and Garver also were part of the lineup for the 2017 championship.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: After finishing 10th, 13th and 10th again the last three seasons, respectively, the Mustangs are expected to make a major jump with a veteran group. Seniors Lauren Slotkke, Hannah Langerak and Elizabeth Nymeyer all will be playing in their third Final, and junior Sabrina Langerak also was part of last year’s lineup. NorthPointe edged Hackett by eight strokes at last week’s Regional at The Mines in Grand Rapids, with Sabrina Langerak the medalist, Slotkke tied for second and Nymeyer tied for fifth.
Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep: The Irish are regular contenders having finished third, fifth and fourth over the last three Finals. While Hackett also graduated some major contributors from that fourth-place finisher, seniors Colleen McNally and Olivia Valkner and juniors Meg Christian and Lauren Rex all played at least one Finals round in 2018. While finishing second at the Regional as a team, McNally tied for second, Valkner for fifth and Christian placed seventh.
Other individuals of note: East Jackson senior Alexis Brzezinski will play in her third Final and is the only returning top-10 finisher in Division 4 from a year ago, having tied for fourth. She won her Regional; also winning Regionals in addition to her, Sabrina Langerak and O’Neill were Frankenmuth junior Ella Smith, Onsted junior Jaime Metzger and Almont junior Brandi Kautz. O’Neill and Brzezinski both broke 80.
PHOTO: Harbor Springs' Jacque O’Neill watches the flight of one of her drives during last season's LP Division 4 Final. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)