Starting a new athletic program can be challenging. First, students interested in the sport have to be found, and then players and coaches have to expect difficult days as the team competes with more experienced programs.
In 2000, DeWitt High School took on the challenge of starting a girls’ golf program, and in just five short seasons, the girls became the tenth team in DeWitt’s storied athletic history to claim a state championship.
Going into the 2005 season, head coach Steve Crowley was optimistic. His program had state finals finishes of ninth in 2002, fifth in 2003, and third in 2004.
With several returners, including seniors Stephany Fleet and Trisha McKim, Crowley believed that 2005 would “prove to be very promising and exciting.”
When the season began, Crowley’s team quickly showcased its skill.
Coming off a second place finish with a 19-3 record in the Capital Area Activities Conference the year before, the Panthers were predicted to finish first by their league opponents, and Fleet, who was headed to Eastern Michigan on a golf scholarship, was chosen as the league’s top player.
The Panthers did not disappoint, running away with victories over LCC, Ionia, Haslett and Charlotte by ten strokes or more.
Their closest competitor Jackson Northwest came within nine shots in their dual match, but DeWitt shattered the Mounties’ hopes with a 19-stroke victory (347-366) at the league tournament at Centennial Acres.
Led by Fleet’s 73 (second overall), and McKim’s 80, fourth overall, the Panthers finished league play with a 10-0 record and were poised to make a deep run in the state tournament.
At the regional in Perry, the Panthers would not be denied. Fleet took medalist honors with a 75 while McKim finished second with an 82.
Overall, with contributions by Emily Clisch and Julie Hatch, the Panthers won the regional title with a 373 score and a 23-shot victory over Flint Powers.
The Panthers entered the Division 3 state finals at Forest Akers in East Lansing with championship expectations. After dominating their region, the team had the opportunity to play for a state championship on a familiar course close to home.
Unlike the regional, the state final take place over two days, and the team with the best overall total wins the title. Although Fleet and McKim led the team for much of the season, Crowley believed that the state championship would come down to the play of Hatch, Clisch, and Colleen DeVoe.
Crowley commented that a state championship was possible if Hatch, Clisch, and DeVoe could post numbers “in the 90s both days.”
On the first day, the Panthers shot a team score of 352 and trailed Whitehall by only one stroke. Fleet was third overall with a 77 and McKim stood at seventh with an 82.
On day two, the Panthers improved their team score with a 349 that would be good for an overall 701 and a nine-stroke victory over Grosse Ile.
In just five seasons, the girls golf program had won the Division 3 State Championship behind Fleet’s 73 (third overall), McKim’s 81 (seventh overall), and impressive rounds by Hatch and Clisch.
Following the state finals, the Panthers garnered additional awards including Fleet being named to the Division 3 All-State Super Team, McKim earning Division 3 All-State honors, Hatch and Clisch earning All-State Honorable Mention, Crowley being named Division 3 Coach of the Year, and the team earning Academic All-State with an overall 3.61 GPA.
Crowley wasn’t surprised by all the accolades, commenting that he had been “proud of them all year long,” and that he “couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to work with.”
— DeWitt High School Athletic Hall of Fame committee
DEWITT SPORTS HALL OF FAME
WHAT: Class of 2015 DeWitt Hall of Fame Induction
WHEN: Oct. 9 Halftime of DeWitt versus St. Johns football game.
WHERE: DeWitt Memorial Stadium