Photos by Sandra Bylsma, Blair Moreau and Scott DeCamp
Montague’s girls golf team was not so much concerned how the overall score looked at the conclusion of Tuesday’s Division 4 regional tournament at Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids.
The Wildcats had one goal in mind: Defending their regional title and punching their ticket to the state finals.
They did just that, and more. Montague cruised to a second-straight regional championship, while senior Orianna Bylsma earned regional medalist honors for the first time. Bylsma shot an 83 to pace the Wildcats, who totaled 354 as a team to finish comfortably ahead of runner-up Remus Chippewa Hills (382). Traverse City St. Francis was a distant third at 431.
The top three teams at regionals and top three individuals not on qualifying squads advance to the state finals. Montague captured the school’s first golf state title last fall at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West, and now the Wildcats will vie for a second-straight big “Mitten” trophy across the street at Forest Akers East Oct. 15-16.
“It wasn’t our best score of the year, but we said going in that our only goal was winning – we didn’t care what the final number was. Montague has another ‘Mitten,’ and that’s all that today was about,” said Montague coach Phil Kerr, whose team shot a school-record 334 last Monday in the East Lansing Invitational at Forest Akers West.
“We knew that Chip Hills was going to make this year’s regional closer than last year and we certainly never took this one for granted. The nerves were real this morning, knowing we needed to play well to get the job done. We got up on them early today and it made for a fairly stress-free back nine, which was really nice.”
As has been the case all season, and last year as well, Montague posted solid scores throughout its lineup. On Tuesday, the Wildcats claimed four of the top six spots: Bylsma first, senior Gabby Moreau fourth (88), sophomore Mackenzie Goudreau fifth (91) and senior Claire Meacham sixth (92).
St. Francis freshman Grace Slocum was Bylsma’s closest individual competitor, two shots back at 85. Chippewa Hills freshman Madison Allen placed third (86).
East Jordan’s Sami Burks (94), Lakeview’s Jenna Voelker (97) and Manistee’s Kendal Waligorski (105) also qualified for the state finals individually.
Kent City finished eighth as a team at 478, followed by North Muskegon ninth (497) and Holton 11th (510).
Even though Montague went in Tuesday expecting to defend its regional title and earn the right to return to the state finals for a third-straight season, the Wildcat still had to go out and perform. There was a little pressure in that regard, but the Wildcats managed it.
“There’s some relief. You know, the hard part I guess is over – getting to state. We’re just going to practice each day really hard. We’re super determined to win,” Bylsma said.
“I think just staying in our own little bubble (will be key at the state finals). Just controlling what we can control and letting our playing do the talking.”
Bylsma controlled the controllables as best she could Tuesday. She shot 40 on the front nine and followed with 43 on the back.
She said that parring No. 1 and getting off to a solid start was key in securing a first-place tournament finish for the second time in her career.
“I think over the weekend I worked on my rhythm and just kind of played really relaxed, and I knew that (at) regionals you can get stressed out super easily but just kind of staying out of my head, letting each shot go and just trying to hit some really great shots and contribute to the team,” said Bylsma, whose team became familiar with Katke by playing in a tourney there last weekend.
“Sometimes I start off pretty rough and that’s where I can kind of lose some holes on the golf course. I parred my first hole and I kind of thought that was a step in the right direction. My front nine was definitely a little bit better than my back nine.”
This season has very much been a continuation of the Wildcats’ run to the state championship last fall. They defended their Greater Muskegon Athletic Association title on Sept. 22 with a score of 345.
Kerr said he was excited for Bylsma, who is a leader of the team and has put in years of hard work. It all paid off at the regional Tuesday with her first-place finish – Kerr said “it felt like fate,” and that her teammates were about as excited for her as they were for the squad
Bylsma is a returning first-team all-stater, while Moreau and Goudreau were all-state honorable mention selections last year. They’ve provided a strong foundation for Montague this season, while others have filled in the gaps.
“I’m most proud of Ori and Gabby for playing like the veterans they are,” Kerr said. “We’ve been at this together for a long time and they’ve been in the fire many times. They pulled from all that experience today and made it easy for everyone else and led this team to another championship. I’m looking forward to a couple more battles together next week before they call it a high school career.”
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