Southwest Michigan features some of the best golf courses in the state, and area boys high school golf teams will be taking full advantage this spring.
The 2016 boys golf season is already under way, and players are hoping some low rounds can help their teams in both conference and state tournament play.
Lakeview hopes to build off of its 2015 Division 1 state runner-up finish, led by a two-time reigning ‘Mr. Golf’ Award winner in senior Andrew Walker.
Maple Valley has a title to defend after winning the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference a year ago, and Coldwater will look to improve on its top-10 finish at the state meet a year ago.
Here’s a closer look at the 2016 area high school boys golf teams:
Coach: David Van Geison (fourth season)
2015 results: 4th Interstate Eight; 4th Division 3 districts; 8th Division 3 regionals
Top returners: Alex Johnson, jr.; Tanner Brauer, sr.; Nick Robinson, sr.; Zach Wilson, jr.
Outlook: The Beavers return the core from their 2015 team as a handful of newcomers will try to crack the lineup and contribute to the team’s efforts in the Interstate Eight Conference and beyond.
Harper Creek returns four varsity starters from a year ago, led by junior Alex Johnson,” Van Geison said. “Seniors Tanner Brauer, Nick Robinson and Zack Wilson all return for their third year on varsity after finishing 4th in the Interstate Eight last season. (We’re) hoping to develop depth at the fifth and sixth position from a group which includes sophomore Mason Ernst – who split time a year ago between JV’s and varsity – and Brendan Ronan, John Nickolaou and Nate Haughey, who all played JV a year ago.”
Coach: Tony Evans (15th season)
2015 results: SMAC East champions; SMAC Champions; Division 1 Runner-up
Top returners: Andrew Walker, sr.; James Staab, jr.; Jared Fisk, sr.; Brendan Stevens, sr.; Bailey Niedzielski, sr.
Outlook: Fresh off a Division 1 runner-up finish in 2015, the Spartans have set lofty goals for this season. The team is led by senior Andrew Walker, the two-time reigning ‘Mr. Golf’ Award winner for the state who is committed to Michigan State University.
“We return four out of our starting six from last year’s state runner-up team,” Evans said. “We feel that with the depth and experience of our returners, we should be right in the hunt for everything again this season. Andrew Walker, James Staab, and Jared Fisk have been a part of state level competition for the past two and three seasons. Bailey (Niedzielski) and Brendan (Stevens) were both varsity golfers last year battling all season with A.J. Moore. I expect both of those players to pick up right where they left off last year and play even better down the stretch. Once again, we know that it is a long season and we just want to make sure we are playing our best golf at the end of the year.”
Coach: Fred Beronja (second season)
2015 results: n/a
Top returners: Chase Williamson; Zachary Woodman; Justin Shrontz; Joe Romig; Keith LeRoux; Jaydon Butson
Outlook: The Panthers hope to climb the Interstate Eight Conference standings, boosted by their six returning lettermen and seven players who are new to the program.
“The boys are working hard and it should be an interesting season,” Beronja said. “Finished in the bottom half of league last year and we’re looking to improve this year.”
Coach: Mike Kimber (first season)
2015 results: n/a
Top returners: Brendan Gausselin, sr.; Evan Hanna, sr.
Outlook: The Fighting Tigers are led by seniors Brendan Gausselin and Evan Hanna, but there’s not a lot of experience beyond them. Newcomers will need to step up early for the team to remain competitive in the Southern Central Athletic Association before the Division 4 state tournament.
“Hoping to just improve from last year,” Kimber said. “We’ve got a good group of guys that work pretty hard, but not a lot of experience. Having a few guys on the team playing dual sports (baseball) and golf being their secondary sport makes things tough at times, but we’ll get through it. Goal-wise, I think this team can make it to regionals… Individually, this will potentially be Gausselin’s fourth straight year to advance to regionals. I know how badly he wants to qualify for states, so for him it’s qualify for state or bust. He certainly has the game and work ethic to do it, we’ll just have to have him prepped and fine-tuned for those district and regional events.”
Coach: Eric Smith (15th season)
2015 results: 5-20
Top returners: Logan Kenny, jr.
Outlook: The Vikings have only one returner from a team that finished last in the St. Joseph Valley Conference. The team hopes the addition of four freshmen, one sophomore and one senior can help get the program on the right track.
“This will be a rebuilding year,” Smith said, “but I am excited about our youth.”
Coach: Doug Robinson (11th season)
2015 record: 4th SCAA
Top returners: Evan Koutny, sr.; Joel Richardson, jr.; Tommy Hoskin, sr.; Jimmy Henning, so.; Gianna Kline, so.; Brody Little, so.
Outlook: The Panthers return their core from a 2015 team and have added depth with 12 total golfers in the program as they seek a top finish in the Southern Central Athletic Association.
“I’m thinking we’ve got a shot at the league this year if things fall into place,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to tell without knowing yet who is in your district, but I think we can get out of the district as a team. And (Evan Koutny, Joel Richardson, Tommy Hoskin and Jimmy Henning) played in fall league out at Cedar Creek (Golf Course) and got a lot of extra golf in.”
Coach: John Petzko (fifth season); Matt Waterbury (fifth season)
2015 results: 2nd Interstate Eight Conference; 3rd Division 2 regionals; 9th Division 2 Finals
Top returners: Cam Ruge, jr.; Nolan Duda, sr.; Nathan Waterbury, sr.; Nick Galliers, sr.; Keagan Dwyer, sr.
Outlook: Thanks to a bevy of returners, the Cardinals believe they can take the next step and improve on last season’s runner-up finish in the conference and their ninth-place finish at the MHSAA Finals.
“Coldwater should once again be a strong contender for both conference, regional, and state recognition,” Petzko said. “We will have strong senior leadership and with five returning players who made it to the state tournament last year we are looking for even better results this season.”
Coach: Rick Yaudes (fifth season)
2015 results: 3rd SCAA
Top returners: Brett Prell, sr.; Eveny Vigil, sr.; Trevor Jensen, sr.; Harrison Shillings, jr.; Garrick Yaudes, so.;
Outlook: The Magi have some talent back on the course, which should help them remain in the top tier of the Southern Central Athletic Association.
“I expect us to be in the top three in the league again this year – I’d really like to see us win it,” Yaudes said. “Our numbers are improving and expectations are high.”
Coach: Ken Enyart (26th season)
2015 results: 4th in KVA; 7th in Division 3 district
Top returners: Kevin Beaudry, so.; Turner McCowan, jr.
Outlook: Sophomore Kevin Beaudry returns after an all-conference freshman season, but the Panthers feature just one upperclassmen on a young team that is eager to prove itself in its first season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
“Turner McCowan is the only junior on the team,” Enyart said. “Kevin (Beaudry) is a sophomore. Everyone else trying to make the varsity are either freshmen or sophomores. We will be very young to say the least.”
Coach: Pat Pearson (12th season)
2015 results: n/a
Top returners: Brad Wheeler, jr.; Sam Kalusa, jr.; Cam Lemon, jr.; Jack VanderMolen, so.
Outlook: The Blue Devils were a young team a year ago when they finished in the middle of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference, and they remain a young team but with added experience and some talented newcomers thrown into the mix.
“We are young, but we have experience,” Pearson said. “I have two freshmen Ben Pejka and Andrew Curtis that are both going to be very good… We are extremely fortunate to be able to play on the five Gull Lake View golf courses. We have an excellent situation for our golf program.”
Coach: Tom Fleming (10th season)
2015 results: 5th in Big Eight Conference; 6th Division 4 Districts; 8th in Division 4 Regional
Top returners: Troy Ladd, so.; Trevor Ladd, jr.
Outlook: With no returning seniors and only two returners overall, the Trojans hope their newcomers can get better as the season progresses and advance out of the Division 4 district round.
“What we’ve done the last two years is struggle early and then got hot at the end,” Fleming said. “We have a bunch of newcomers. That’s all I look for out of these guys – to improve and get better throughout the season.”
Coach: Spring Javor (fifth season)
2015 results: 1st GLAC; 3rd Regionals; 12th in Division 3
Top returners: Dillon Walker, jr.; Jonah Denton, jr.; Tony Martin, jr.
Outlook: The defending Greater Lansing Athletic Conference champions were hit hard by graduation, but with 22 golfers in the program, several newcomers have the opportunity to step in and contribute on the varsity.
“We had our first league match and we finished fifth out of seven – that opened our eyes a little bit, especially the new guys,” Javor said. “I really don’t think we’re out of it. It’s going to be a hard fight, but there’s a chance that we make a run at the conference. I think this team has the potential to be as good as the team last year, but they have to work really hard to get there. And they have been working very hard.”
Coach: Philip Murphy (second season)
2015 results: 7th Interstate Eight Conference
Top returners: Jack Welke, jr.; Ryan Wade, jr.
Outlook: Marshall remains a young team, but juniors Jack Welke and Ryan Wade return with valuable experience from a year ago that should help the team improve and build for the future.
“We have another young team with returning juniors from the varsity team last year: Ryan Wade and Jack Welke,” Murphy said. “Moving to varsity is junior Isiah Strand. Newcomers we are looking to for great things are Jake Redmond and freshman Carl Quist. Nick Mummaw will be our sixth man this year. With our home course hosting regionals, our team goal is make it through districts. With the athletic talent on our team, that goal is by no means a stretch. Last year’s team along with this year’s team is building a foundation for years to come.”
Coach: Eddie Collins (ninth season)
2015 results: 4th in GLAC
Top returners: Dan Higgins, jr.
Outlook: The Eagles finished in the bottom group of the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference, but can turn the corner quickly thanks to the return of Dan Higgins (42.5 per nine holes in 2015) as well as the addition of some newcomers that have already shown great potential.
“We have six guys that can shoot mid to low 40s,” Collins said. “The challenge will be to get four of them to do it on the same day. With a team of all juniors and one sophomore, I hope they don’t wait until their senior year to realize how good they could be.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley