The 2016 Spring Lake girls golf team was facing a lot of new challenges. The Lakers were joining the O-K Blue Conference, which meant new courses and new challengers. The squad also had to find a way to replace talented senior Kayla Krueger, who now plays golf at Valparaiso University, as well as All-Conference talent Emma Conroy.
The team was more than up to the task, however, as they won the O-K Blue Conference by 331 strokes as Spring Lake golfers swept the first-team All-Conference list, and added a sixth member on the second-team list.
Senior Anna Kramer (individual medalist at state finals, All-State Super Team selection, All-Conference selection) was the headliner for the Lakers, followed by junior Madelyn Nelson (All-State, All-Conference selection), senior Jackie Olszewski (All-State, All-Conference), senior Jaedyn Shelton (second-team All-State, first-team All-Conference selection), sophomore Hannah Klein (second-team All-State, first-team All-Conference), senior Taylor Klein and freshman Phoebe Saunders (second-team All-Conference).
“The team has been very close throughout their golf careers,” said head coach George Bitner. “They all get along so well that sometimes I worry about whether they’re goofing around too much, but usually, they’re just having fun playing the game together.
“On top of the chemistry, they’re all very dedicated to the game. Most of them are playing offseason tournaments, practicing with personal coaches and getting in some work at the driving range, too.”
Senior Anna Kramer reiterated her coach’s thoughts after the team’s regional championship in October.
“We’re not just close because we are on the same golf team, we’re actually all friends outside the team, too,” Kramer pointed out. “It’s really nice, because we all get along and it makes playing on the same team a lot of fun. Our scores this year have all been really bunched together. Last year, you kind of knew where people were going to fall in the scoring, but this year, you really never know. Everyone on our team is playing well right now.”
The hard work and determination served the team well last fall, as the Lakers continually scored around their averages each and every meet — something that made their coach happy.
“They always scored around the same marks throughout our lineup,” Bitner continued. “Anna usually paced the group and put us in a great position, but then we’d have Madelyn, Jackie and Jaedyn bunched together after that, and Hannah sometimes jumped ahead of that group, too.
“Then we had Phoebe come in and she could have been the first or second best golfer on a lot of teams in our conference. I was fairly confident that if we played to our averages, we could repeat as a state champs. I kept track of the other D3 competitors throughout the season, and we were by far the most balanced team out there. We just needed to go out and execute, and we did.”
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
The Spring Lake girls golf team closed out its regular season with a dominant performance at the O-K Blue Conference postseason tournament at the Meadows Golf Course on the campus of Grand Valley State University on Sept. 29, 2016.
The Lakers carded a 328 to win the tournament by 62 strokes. Grand Rapids Catholic Central finished second with a 390, while Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian came in third with a 398.
Senior Anna Kramer took individual medalist honors with a 78, while senior Jaedyn Shelton and junior Madelyn Nelson both had 81s. Jackie Olszewski, Hannah Klein and Phoebe Saunders each had 88s.
The Lakers ended up winning the O-K Blue Conference by 331 strokes, while placing six golfers on the All-Conference team.
Anna Kramer finished the regular season with a 37.75 average, while Madelyn Nelson (39.88), Jaedyn Shelton (40.13), Jackie Olszewski (41.13) Hannah Klein (42.25) and Phoebe Saunders (43.14) rounded out the All-Conference performers for the Lakers.
The Lakers captured their third-consecutive regional championship on Oct. 6, 2016 at the White Lake Golf Club in Whitehall, carding a 348.
Whitehall (404) finished second and Big Rapids (409) finished third to qualify for the Division 3 state meet.
Senior Anna Kramer took individual medalist honors with a 6-over 80 on the day to lead the Lakers, while junior Madelyn Nelson (87) and senior Jaedyn Shelton (87) tied for second-place overall.
The Lakers held a 13-stroke lead after the first day of the Division 3 state finals. True to form, the two-time defending champs saved their best for last, carding a 319 on Day 2 to capture their third straight Division 3 state championship on Oct. 15, 2016, at Bedford Valley Golf Course in Battle Creek.
With its trifecta, Spring Lake became the first Division 3 team to record three consecutive titles.
The Lakers finished with a two-day score of 662 (343, 319) to best runner-up Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, who finished with a 697 (362, 335), by 35 strokes. Flint Powers Catholic finished in third with a 718 (378, 340), Detroit Country Day finished fourth with a 721 (364, 357) and No. 1-ranked Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood finished fifth with a 723 (365, 370).
“Almost every single girl on the team improved on their score today,” said Spring Lake coach George Bitner after the event. “Jackie (Olszewski) actually tied her Day 1 score, but she shot a 39 on the last nine today, so she finished strong.
“It’s so rewarding to see them play so well on the second day like that. We’ve done that four years in a row, now. They did a really nice job on the front nine today, and that’s not easy to do at this course.”
Senior standout Anna Kramer finished with a two-day score of 153 (78, 75), while junior Madelyn Nelson had the biggest Day 2 turnaround, carding a 79 on Saturday after recording an 89 in the opening round to finish with a 168 on the weekend.
Sophomore Hannah Klein recorded an 81 on Day 2, improving her score by eight strokes, to finish with a final tally of 170 (89, 81). Klein finished tied for 10th overall individually to join Kramer (2nd) and Nelson (8th) for Division 3 All-State honors.
Senior Jackie Olszewski finished with a 174 (87, 87), while fellow senior Jaedyn Shelton added a 177 (93, 84).
“All six girls shot in the 30s at one point this year,” Bitner said of his varsity squad. “I’ve never had that before. It’s just a dream come true for me as a coach. They all get along so well with each other. They pretty much adopted the freshman (Phoebe Saunders) and accepted her as a part of the team.
“They all just enjoy playing golf and enjoy being around each other.”
Bitner reflected on the three straight state champions after coaching golf for the Lakers for decades.
“Three in a row is a special accomplishment,” he added. “These girls earned it. The only other state title this school was in cross country a few years ago, so the girls golf program has added a lot of hardware to the trophy case the last few years.”
Tribune Top Five Teams Countdown
Honorable Mention: Spring Lake girls soccer
No. 5 — Spring Lake Softball
No. 4 — Spring Lake Boys Basketball
No. 3 — Grand Haven Baseball
No. 2 — Spring Lake Girls Golf
No. 1 — Week of July 31