Houghton holds grip on local golf

L’ANSE – It was a clean sweep for Houghton golf Thursday at the WestPAC’s L’Anse Invite, as the Gremlins earned both team titles, led by both medalists.

The boys beat rival Hancock 331 to 346, with Calumet and host L’Anse just behind at 353 and 356, respectively.

Gremlin freshman Gunnar Stein, playing as the fifth golfer on the five-person team in his first varsity golf meet, shot the lowest 18-hole score of the day with a 78. Calumet’s Reese Lassila and L’Anse’s Tristan Leaf each fired 79s, just a shot back of Stein.

“That’s quite the way to break in,” Houghton boys’ coach Jack Kumpula, who was also filling in for girls’ coach Corey Markham Thursday, said of Stein. “Gunnar is so steady – that’s his forte. He’s always straight and down the middle. That helped him today.”

That was Kumpula’s advice for his whole team: “Keep it simple, straight and down the middle. Don’t try to do too much.”

Wyatt Liston (82), Brendan Longhini (84) and Seth Kaarto all also finished under 90 for the Gremlins, who only had one outdoor practice Tuesday at their home Portage Lake Golf Course before having meets Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s been a really short, short spring, wreaking havoc on golfers in particular,” Kumpula said. “The kids are working off instinct.”

The Gremlin girls sure were. The two-time defending Division 1 Upper Peninsula golf champions cruised to victory Thursday, combining for a 182, a staggering 50 shots ahead of second-place Ironwood (232). As wide as the gap was between first and second, second through fourth was about as close as it could get, with L’Anse shooting its way to a 234, followed by Calumet’s 235.

It was the first WestPAC girls’ meet of the year, and defending All-U.P. golfer Megan Kelly picked up right where she left off, garnering medalist honors with a 39 over nine holes. Three of her Gremlin teammates, Bailey Raffaelli (46), Noelle Polakowski (48) and Kenna Farrey (49) also broke 50, something only one other golfer from the other four schools – L’Anse’s Alyssa Norback (41) – accomplished. Even No. 5 golfer Addison Cook, whose score didn’t count toward the team total, pitched in a 53, which, aside from her teammates was the fourth best score among the 19 other girls.

“The girls are just so consistent week in and week out,” Kumpula said.

Unfortunately, because the long-lasting winter weather was so persistent week in and week out, the abbreviated WestPAC golf season will all come down to Tuesday’s meet at PLGC, as determined by the coaches Thursday. Usually U.P. Finalists are determined through a series of meets.

“The whole conference championship will come down to Tuesday,” Kumpula said. “… (Thursday) was a good tune-up.”