By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Few MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Golf Finals weekends, at least in recent memory, have featured so many successful returning teams and individuals as this weekend's will at Michigan State University's Forest Akers courses.
Two programs riding consecutive championship streaks, Northville and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, could be on the cusp of record-book achievements. Meanwhile, all four individual champions from 2019 also are back for more, with a change in division pitting a pair of them this time around.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, this season's Finals will be different – just one round instead of the usual two, with Divisions 1 and 2 on Friday and Divisions 3 and 4 on Saturday. Play begins both days on the West course at 9:30 a.m. and on the East course at 10:30.
This season's Finals also will be different for a more fun reason; for the first time, they will feature hole-by-hole live scoring, available via the MHSAA Golf app designed by iWanamaker and available for both iOS and Android.
Click for the MHSAA "Tournament Home" including groupings for each Final, and see below for some of the teams and individuals to watch this weekend:
Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Plymouth, 2. Grand Blanc, 3. Northville.
Northville has been the class of an always-strong division the last two seasons, following up its 31-stroke 2018 Finals win by taking last year’s title by 32 strokes ahead of the field. But Plymouth enters as the favorite this time, following a third place last season and runner-up finish in 2018. Grand Blanc is expected to be back in the mix as well after coming in fifth a year ago. Rochester Adams is ranked No. 4 but held the top spot for two weeks late this fall.
Plymouth: The Wildcats are pursuing their first Finals championship since winning Division 1 back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. They took over the top spot in the coaches rankings only last week after shooting a 326 to edge Northville by four strokes and win the Regional at Lake Forest in Ann Arbor. Junior Bridget Boczar was medalist and twin Grace Boczar tied for second with teammate Brooke Morris. Mara Bridges and Abigail Boyer also are returning this weekend from last season’s lineup. Bridget Boczar tied for fourth individually at the 2019 Final and Grace missed the top 10 by a stroke.
Grand Blanc: The Bobcats also shot 326 to win their Regional, at Lapeer Country Club, ahead of No. 6 Brighton and No. 7 Hartland. Kate Brody finished third at last season’s Final as a freshman and finished second at last week’s Regional with teammates Taylor Kondel and Madison Brigance tying for fourth and finishing ninth, respectively. Those three and Halee Frame – 12th at the Regional – were part of last season’s lineup as well.
Northville: The Mustangs held the top spot in the poll nearly the entire season and will try to become the ninth Lower Peninsula girls golf program to win at least three straight Finals championships. Senior Katelyn Tokarz, sophomore Samantha Coleman and junior Megha Vallabhaneni all were part of the lineup last season, and Tokarz was top five in 2018 as well. The entire current lineup finished among the top 12 at last week’s Regional, led by Haesol Park tied for fourth and Coleman sixth.
More individuals of note: Although last season’s individual champion Allison Cui of Okemos is playing in Division 2 this weekend, four more returning top-10 finishers join Bridget Boczar and Brody. Traverse City West senior Anci Dy will look to finish with her first championship after coming in second last season, tied for fifth as a sophomore and tied for sixth as a freshman. Utica Eisenhower senior Ariel Chang also will try for her first title coming off finishes of fourth last season, third as a sophomore and tied for sixth as a freshman. Grosse Pointe South’s Audrey Becker was seventh in 2019, and Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Amaya Melendez was ninth. Dy, Becker and Chang joined Boczar as Regional champions last week, along with Adams’ Laura Liu and Holt’s Nateda Her.
Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. South Lyon, 3. Farmington Hills Mercy.
Coming off last season’s 26-stroke Finals win, Forest Hills Northern will attempt this weekend to become just the second Lower Peninsula girls golf program to win four straight championships. South Lyon was last year’s runner-up and is expected to be the best challenger again as it plays for its first title in the sport. Mercy last won a girls golf championship in 2001, in Division 1, but came in fourth a year ago.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Only two golfers are back from last season’s lineup, but they give the Huskies as good of a start as any team enjoys. Senior Lilia Henkel tied for second last year, third as a sophomore and finished seventh as a freshman, while senior Anna Fay has finished fourth and ninth individually at the last two Finals. They came in first and second, respectively, at last week’s Regional at Muskegon Country Club, with teammates Juliana Mas and Meagan Cox tying for eighth during the 41-stroke win.
South Lyon: The Lions won their Regional at Farmington Hills Golf Club by 47 strokes, shooting 324 and placing all five golfers among the top 10 individuals with Katherine Potter first, Gabriella Tapp second and Isabella Campbell third. Tapp won last season’s Finals championship by three strokes, while Potter was fifth and Campbell and Sophia Joseph also back from the 2019 top five. Joseph came in sixth at the Regional last week.
Farmington Hills Mercy: Although Mercy was only third at that Regional with South Lyon, the Marlins easily could be in the mix for a Finals championship returning three starters from last season’s lineup – Chloe Vig, Leah Glover and Gabby Crespi. All three were among the top 25 finishers at the Regional, Vig placing fifth.
Other individuals of note: The four returning top-five individual finishers mentioned above make this field strong on their own. But they’re just the start. Fenton’s Brook Herbstreit also is back after finishing sixth in 2019. And reigning Division 1 champion Allison Cui of Okemos is back in Division 2 – she also finished runner-up in Division 2 in 2018, losing on a one-hole tie-breaker. Cui joined Henkel and Potter as Regional champs last week, as did Mount Pleasant’s Ashley Trost, Carlton Airport’s Kristen Reed and St. Joseph’s Maya Hunter. Reed tied for ninth in Division 3 last season. Another name to remember is Haslett’s Olivia Stoll, who finished only two strokes back of Cui and is the daughter of Michigan State University women’s golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll. Teammate Sydney Dausman was just a stroke behind Olivia Stoll at the Regional and tied for fifth in Division 3 in 2019.
Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East
Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 2. Grand Rapids South Christian, 3. Grand Rapids Christian.
Marian broke through for its first championship last season, and now is anticipated to win a second straight. Grand Rapids Christian is attempting to become the next first-time champ this weekend, while South Christian is seeking its first title since 2009 and after finishing runner-up in both 2017 and 2018. Flint Powers Catholic is ranked No. 4 but easily could rise to the top after finishing second last season and winning the Final in 2018.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: Two-time individual champion Shannon Kennedy makes Marian immediately formidable; she won last season by three strokes and also as a freshman. She was medalist at last week’s Regional at Calderone Farms in Grass Lake as Marian shot 323 to win by 46 strokes, and was followed closely by teammates Ashley Carroll (second), Sarah Kuredjian (third), Lauren Sass (seventh) and Laura Emerson (eighth). The latter three also were part of the lineup during last season’s championship run, and Sass also will be playing in her fourth Final.
Grand Rapids South Christian: The Sailors fell back to 15th last season after those back-to-back runner-up finishes, but they’re on the rise again. South Christian won the Regional at Diamond Springs in Hamilton in a tie-breaker against Grand Rapids Christian, with all five of its golfers finishing among the top 10 individually. Tori Heyboer, Kate Hoekwater and Amanda Ormstad all played in the 2019 Final, and teammates Ashley Thomasma and Elle Bolkema led the Regional charge last week coming in second and fourth, respectively.
Grand Rapids Christian: As noted, the Eagles were second at their Regional because of the tie-breaker, and they’re expected to climb from last year’s 10th-place Finals finish with Ryann Breslin setting the pace. She was fifth individually last season and won the Regional last week. Sara Muir and Niya Couch also were part of the 2019 lineup, and Muir is coming off a third-place Regional finish.
Other individuals of note: Powers senior Jolie Brochu has finished second the last two seasons after tying for eighth as a freshman and should provide Kennedy with another titanic battle. Joining those two and Breslin from last year’s top 10 are Warren Regina’s Charlotte Thibault (eighth) and Ada Forest Hills Eastern’s Hailey Curry (tied for ninth). Brochu, Breslin and Kennedy won Regional titles last week, along with Big Rapids’ Lauren Posey, Battle Creek Harper Creek’s Lauren Reed and Macomb Lutheran North freshman Lauren Timpf.
Lower Peninsula Division 4 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Top-ranked: 1. Montague, 2. Lansing Catholic, 3. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep.
Reigning champion Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian was ranked No. 1 all season until the most recent poll, when it dropped to No. 4. Montague moved ahead to the favorite spot as it aims for its first Finals championship in this sport. Lansing Catholic moved up to third last season and is seeking its first championship since 2012. Hackett has finished fourth and fifth the last two seasons and was back-to-back champion in 2014 and 2015.
Montague: This program is only five years old, but the Wildcats pushed all the way up to fourth last season. They won last week’s Regional at Grand Traverse Resort’s Wolverine by 54 strokes, shooting a 351 with all five golfers among the top eight finishers. Four of those golfers are back from the 2019 lineup – Megan Brown was third, Orianna Bylsma and Gabriella Moreau tied for fourth (with teammate Mackenzie Goudreau) and Katie Unger eighth at The Wolverine.
Lansing Catholic: The Cougars are coming off a 32-stroke Regional win at Hunters Ridge in Byron, where their top four placed among the top seven. Three of those high four finishers were part of the lineup last season as well – Amanda Melling (Regional medalist), Maya Blonshine (fourth) and Sailor Somerville (fifth).
Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep: The Irish are hoping to claim another championship trophy with a lineup also returning three from last season’s Final. Lauren Rex, Colleen McNally and Meg Christian all played Finals rounds in 2018 as well, and finished tied for third, fifth and sixth, respectively, as Hackett won at HawksHead in South Haven at a Regional that included NorthPointe and No. 6 South Haven.
Other individuals of note: A powerful group of returnees sets the bar high for the individual title race. Harbor Springs’ Jacque O’Neill is the reigning champion, while Wixom St. Catherine’s Sara Haupt was second, NorthPointe’s Sabrina Langerak third, Onsted’s Jaime Metzger tied for sixth and Durand’s Emme Lantis eighth at the 2019 Final. Langerak and O’Neill were Regional champs last week, as were Almont’s Brandi Kautz, Michigan Center’s Kamryn Shannon and Shepherd’s Madde Skeel.
PHOTO: South Lyon's Gabriella Tapp putts during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final; she finished as individual champion. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)