Houghton girls take 2nd

Ben Strong takes medalist honors for Houghton boys

Houghton’s Kaitlyn McKay sets up her ball on the green at the Northern Michigan University Golf Course Wednesday afternoon during the MHSAA Upper Peninsula girls golf finals. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — The conditions weren’t great Wednesday afternoon at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 finals, but the Escanaba golf teams fought through them and ended up having a big day on the links.

The Eskymos swept both the boys and girls titles with the boys unseating three-time defending champion Houghton and the girls capturing their second straight crown.

“I don’t think a coach could be any more satisfied than with that result,” Escanaba head coach Brian Robinette said. “The boys have had the ability to do something like this all year long and I kept telling them about the idea of making teams beat you.

“For awhile, we weren’t doing that, but little by little, they figured out how to fight their way to good scores. They fought hard today up until the moment that they signed their scorecards and that was great.

“The girls just really went out and performed today. We needed to show up as a team today and we definitely did that. This was a highly successful season.

“The girls kept improving and had great attitudes and they’re an easy team to coach because they like golf. It’s easy to coach someone who likes the sport they’re in.

“They were really dedicated and serious about the game and it showed out there today.”

The Escanaba boys outlasted Gladstone by one stroke, 319 to 320, among the 11 squads that fielded full teams at the Marquette Golf Club.

Negaunee was third with 327 and Marquette and Houghton tied for fourth with 337. Calumet took sixth with 338 before a big drop down to Kingsford in seventh with 361.

Braves head coach Dane Quigley was a little down with coming just short of topping their neighbors, but was proud of how his squad performed.

“Today was just a heartbreaker,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get that title the last few years and I thought we might have the team to do it this time, but it didn’t work out. We actually did pretty well with our Nos. 3, 4, and 5 guys stepping up, but unfortunately, Esky had guys in the 70s and that’s hard to beat.

“The good thing is that we have some really good golfers coming back next year and I think we’ll have another good chance to win it.”

For Negaunee, which finished second to the Gremlins last year, it was a solid day on the course that resulted in its best performance of the spring.

Miners head coach Dustin Hongisto definitely liked what he saw.

“I was really happy with how we played,” he said. “We had three solid scores and today was actually our lowest team score of the year. My No. 1 guy (Carter Mason) struggled a little bit today, but he’s had a great career with two conference championships and he was medalist last year, so he has nothing to be ashamed about. But his brother (Jordan) made up for that and everyone else kind of picked up the slack.”

Marquette head coach Ben Smith felt that his young squad learned a lot and thinks that there’s a lot of potential for next season.

“Whenever you host a meet like this, you hope that it will give you a good advantage and it did a little bit,” he said. “Jordan Jurmu had a solid round (he shot 81) after battling some cold weather. We had a couple of guys shoot 85s and that was good. There was a lot of older guys on the other teams and I think that will help us get a taste of what it takes to win.

“Hopefully, we can build on today and we can keep plugging away for next season. I think we’re going to see some good things.”

Individually, Houghton senior Ben Strong was medalist after shooting 73. He was happy with his performance and was glad to end his Gremlins’ career on a good note.

“I think I had a good day overall,” he said. “I made a couple birdies and kept it together mentally throughout the round today.

“I played really well my four years in Houghton. My freshman year, I placed fourth and now as a senior, I won U.P. Finals. You can’t get much better than that.”

Other top individual scorers were Menominee’s Evan Kramer with 75 and Negaunee’s Jordan Mason 77, while the Eskymos’ Johnny Kositzky and Parker La Pointe as well as Gladstone’s Bryce Douglas tied for fourth with each shooting 78.

In the girls meet with 10 schools fielding full teams, Escanaba finished with a comfortable 18-stroke victory over Houghton, 351 to 369, to repeat as champs. In addition, the Eskymos’ Paxton Johnson was medalist for the second straight year after shooting 75 at the Northern Michigan University Golf Course in Chocolay Township.

When asked if she was used to winning tournaments, Johnson put that thought to rest quickly.

“You never get used to this,” she said with a laugh. “It feels great every time. My wedges worked out great for me today and I just liked how I did.”

For the second-place Gremlins, it was a disappointing outcome, but head coach Ruth Ryynanen felt that her team left it all on the course.

“The day went pretty well,” she said. “We’ve played here before and I think that helped us a bit. One of our girls (Kaaren Liston) had a personal best with a 77 and that was wonderful to see. She always is trying harder to do her absolute best. We have a good group coming back next year and I have five girls who didn’t even get to play today that have been practicing hard and could step up for us.”

Marquette took third place with 390 and Smith thought the Redettes had a great day overall.

“Since we played at two different sites, I didn’t get to see a lot of them, but from what I know, they played really well,” he said. “Ellie (Hicks) shot an 85 and I’m happy for her because that’s a great way to end her junior year.

“Today was just a great day for them to come together and I hope that they can build on that.”

Liston took second place, Hicks finished third, and the Escanaba threesome of Sam Henderson (91), Megan Dagenais (92) and Darby Beckon (93), who took fourth through sixth, respectively.