Greater Goals

Duncan MacLean • Sep 21, 2017 at 1:27 AM

COOPERSVILLE — After taking home a state title at the conclusion of a grueling season of work, not much else can quench the competitive thirst of a dedicated athlete. One championship only motivates another, and proves to diminish any lesser achievements.

The Spring Lake golf team continues to dominate their conference season, slogging through the O-K Blue as a means to their end: a fourth straight Division 3 title.

The Lakers strengthened their stranglehold on the O-K Blue Conference on Wednesday with a six-stroke victory at the Western Greens Country Club, continuing their undefeated run since joining the conference last season.

Host Coopersville finished second, carding a 173. NorthPointe Christian followed at 179, ahead of West Catholic at 195, Grand Rapids Catholic Central at an even 200, Comstock Park at 202, Allendale at 207, and Sparta bringing up the rear at 226.

Madelyn Nelson reclaimed her top spot after an off round on Monday, leading the Lakers with a 37. Phoebe Saunders followed, shooting a 40, just ahead of Hannah Klein at 41. Kate Galloway and Alana Sprague rounded out the team tied at 49.

“The course had some difficulty to it, so I am pretty happy with those scores,” Spring Lake head coach George Bitner said. “It is great to get everyone under 50, but we had some stupid mistakes that need correcting before the postseason.”

The girls teed off the front nine at Western Greens, submitting them to tight, wooded fairways and dicey chips onto tough greens.

“The hard part of this course is the trees everywhere,” Nelson said. “You have to hit it straight or you can get in trouble, and the greens were pretty hard, off speed.

“I can’t hit a driver to save my life right now, but my short game and putting was a lot better today, which helped me on the scorecard.”

While Nelson rolled on the greens, putting threw a few Lakers for a loop, prompting a familiar refrain from Bitner.

“I saw some putting I didn’t care for, even a four putt,” he said. “The hardest yardage on the course is the 6 inches between your ears, I keep telling them that.

“Just lining up putts at the hole is a problem. I think the girls line them up thinking, ‘There’s no way I make this,’ then put it 6 feet past the hole. We need to work on that.”

Despite the challenges, the Lakers came out on top of Tuesday’s conference jamboree once again. Their unbeaten streak has rendered victory a given during the regular season, making motivation for mid-week conference jamborees hard to come by. Luckily, the Lakers have their own set of standards to measure up to.

“We just try to improve every day from our own scores. We keep playing each other and try to get better and not worry about the conference scores,” Nelson said. “I’ve been wishing and waiting for the four-peat since we won it last year.

“The conference season is fun, you talk with the people you play with and just try to improve, it gets a lot more serious and focused at regionals and then at state. I really want to win it again.”

After graduating some serious firepower from last year’s title team, the Lakers are still calibrating their postseason roster.

With their top three golfers in state tournament form, the quest is ongoing for a fourth and fifth golfer capable of taking on the championship streak, a search that is proving difficult while competing in the O-K Blue, despite some true talent on the Spring Lake team.

“We have girls that are playing with people that aren’t very good,” Bitner said. “They have a tendency to play down to their game. We have to keep them focused on their game. We need a solid fourth score to compete at the state level.”

The Lakers have to rely on each other in practice to provide competition worthy of their looming challenge at the regional and state meets.

“We do a lot of stuff as a team at practice to try and make each other better,” Nelson said. “We know we really have to improve for the state meet and regionals, it is just going to take time. We have one month.”

The perennial champs took a step in the right direction Tuesday with a full slate of scores under 50, and will look to continue to improve over the final rounds of the conference season. With just three competitions remaining before the regional, it is now or never for the Lakers.

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