The Spring Lake golf team was looking to continue their dominance of the Division 3 state finals this weekend, shooting for a fourth-straight state championship. The Laker five-some would fall short of their ultimate goal, coming up with a third-place finish, shooting 709 strokes over the 36-hole, two-day event.
Macomb Lutheran North took home the overall title with 697 strokes in their first year competing in Division 3 after moving up from Division 4 at the start of the 2017 season. Grand Rapids South Christian took second at an even 700. The Lakers finished ahead of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood at 718, while Flint Powers Catholic rounded out the top five teams at 749.
The result was understandably bittersweet for the Lakers, who had their hearts set on a title. The bronze-medal finish continues a half-decade of dominance for Spring Lake. After failing to qualify in 2012, the Lakers sandwiched their 3-peat with a third-place finish in 2013 and this year’s run at bronze.
“Third feels pretty good, because we were ranked seventh all year,” Spring Lake head coach George Bitner said. “Very seldom does a team make a run like this. They should be proud of what they did, I know I am.”
Individually, Hannah Klein finished tied for sixth place overall with an 80 on Day 1 and 78 on Day 2 for a total score of 165.
Following Klein’s medalist finish, senior Madelyn Nelson carded a 170, Phoebe Saunders put together a 177, Alana Sprague finished with a 197, while Kayla Raschke rounded out the state team with a total score of 234.
After Friday’s round, the girls found themselves in fourth place, just seven strokes off the team leader. The closer-than-expected standings inspired improvement across the board.
All five golfers dropped strokes for Day 2. Klein dropped five, Nelson four, Saunders one, Sprague seven and Raschke a whopping 16 strokes to put themselves in the hardware conversation.
“I think knowing that we were only down seven gave us some motivation to do better, so we did,” Nelson said. “I think we were motivated because we thought we had a chance to win.”
Bitner had a different perspective on the scoring drop, citing nerves and an impressively young squad.
“This was the fifth year in a row we did better on the second day,” he said. “They probably just got the jitters of their first state meet out, we had three girls competing here for the first time.
“I told them Saturday, just play your game, and they did well. 363 on Day 1 to 346 on Day 2 is a big difference.”
The Day 2 improvement drove home this teams’ knack for putting together their best rounds when it counts, and underscored the potential of the squad going forward.
Raschke carded her best score of the year, while Sprague pieced together a career-best round at the state meet.
“We did better today than we did all year,” Bitner said. “They did it when it counted, that is what I like the most. They didn’t give up and should be proud of that.
“Sprague told me on Friday that she was going to break 100, and she did,” Bitner said. “She came out all giddy and said, ‘Guess what I shot’, with a big smile on her face said, ‘95’ and danced away all smiles.
“That is the reward of coaching, that is what it is all about, having the girls happy.”
Success is something these Lakers hold very dear after such an illustrious run through the season, and a key to their happiness. A 16th straight league title, stretching from the Seaway to Lakes Eight to O-K Blue, a fourth-straight regional title and tremendous regular-season performance all reflect the tradition of excellence pursued by the program.
“I can’t tell you how many times we have made the state, although it is quite a few, or how many total league championships we have between the three conferences, but this year we won two invitational, won the league, took first in the regional and third here at the state meet. A lot of schools would pay big money to have that.
“I think they like success.”
Nelson was a key contributor in all three state championship runs, making her fourth trip to championship weekend this year. The end of the road was bitter, but the accomplishments were not lost on the senior.
“It is hard after winning three years in a row, I wanted to get the fourth one,” she said. “We are happy with third, it isn’t the worst thing ever.
“It is exciting and fun playing with people you know are talented and it is exciting winning. It is a lot more fun when you know you can go far. To have accomplished winning conference and regionals is nice. The one I really wanted was state, but it is cool knowing we were good enough to win those and that we came close here.
“The run showed me how to be a team player, even in an individual sport. To win the big ones you have to play well as a team, and that helped me get really close to these people. I’m really happy I got to play with these girls, and am sad it is over.”
With four girls from their third-place team returning next year, and the legendary coaching crew of Bitner and his assistants, the Lakers are showing no sign of slowing down. They will look to be competitive and happy once again next year, chasing the success they all crave.