Local teams defend dynasties at U.P. golf

HOUGHTON – It may be a bit of overkill to throw around the word ‘dynasty’ when referring to high school golf, but two local teams are well within that range and a third might get there by the time the last player holes out at U.P. Golf Finals this week.

The Houghton girls, who haven’t lost a meet in nearly four years, can easily be considered dynastic. Part of what makes a dynasty a dynasty is succession and since entering the lineup, Adison Cook, Lindsey Sandell and Taryn Kaurala have kept the Gremlins at their lofty heights.

“A lot of it is the fact that we have so many consecutive years. It’s kind of pushed them to put in more practice time so we can continue to do so,” Houghton’s Noelle Polakowski said.

The Division 1 meet is today at Marquette Golf and Country’s Club’s Heritage Course, a track over which Houghton and Calumet competed last week.

The Gremlins won both ends of the meet, with the Houghton girls’ 397 good enough for a 42-shot victory.

Gremlin Megan Kelly (85) was the only girl to break 90 and Polakowski the only other girl to break 100.

“I didn’t have a strong round, but I learned a lot, I took a lot of good notes and I think that will be very beneficial,” Polakowski said.

Though they’ve won the last three team titles in a row, Houghton hasn’t had the medalist in any of those meets thanks to phenoms Carley Saint-Onge and Avery Rochester of Marquette, the latter of which shot 69 in last year’s Finals at Portage Lake Golf Course. With both now safely into the college ranks, Kelly and Polakowski might be the co-favorites individually as well.

Only Gladstone’s Callie Jensen (92) broke 100 at the Great Northern Conference meet, won by Escanaba, last week at Pine Grove in Iron Mountain.

“The greens are fast, so I’m going to need to get in some quality warm-up time on the putting greens for sure. Other than that, I think it plays a lot like our home course, Portage, as far as yardage and stuff like that. There are some par-4s that you can really take advantage of, and things like that,” Polakowski said.

On the boys’ side, Houghton will be trying to get back a Division 1 crown off the course of defending champ Marquette after Marquette did the same to them last year.

Escanaba also won the GNC boys’ championship, though defending U.P. medalist Scott Frazier of Marquette was the low shooter with an 82.

Led by Wyatt Liston’s 77, Houghton had three players under 82 at the Marquette Invitational last week, though so did Brett Specker of Marquette (73, medalist) and Joe Linn (78).

Tanner Kearly of Hancock shot 81 in that meet as well, but he and the Bulldogs are in Division 2, where they’ll compete Thursday at George Young Golf Course in Iron River.

The Hancock boys have four U.P. titles (one of which was in Division 3) and a runner-up in the last five years.

“I think we’ve been fortunate as a program to have a lot of kids that like to compete with each other and make good golf scores, get better at their games, and one through five we’ve had some pretty solid teams,” Kearly said.

Thanks to poor spring weather, the WestPAC teams didn’t make their usual tour of George Young, but Kearly believes he and his teammates are prepared and know what to expect.

“It’s not a real long course, but it can give you a lot of trouble if you don’t find fairways,” he said.

The Bulldogs beat Norway by a single shot last year at Oak Crest in Norway. The Knights, who won the Mid-Peninsula Conference meet at Manistique with a 359, will be tough again. Austin Hansen led the way at the M-PC’s with a 79.

Individually, Hansen and several Hancock golfers could be in the mix for medalist honors, but they’ll have to take it off L’Anse’s Tristan Leaf, who was lowest last year with a 74.

On the D-2 girls’ side, L’Anse’s Alyssa Norback was one shot out of a medal playoff last year as she and the Purple Hornets try and take both the individual and team titles away from Iron Mountain.

In Division 3, the Jeffers boys come in off victory at the Jack Sandretto Invitational at Portage Lake. They’ll try and get their third U.P. title in a row Thursday at Highland Golf Club outside Escanaba.

All four Jets scored in the 80s at last year’s Finals (Escanaba Country Club) and three who’ll play Thursday were at 82 or below when the Finals were last played at Highland in 2012.

Tyler Bailey, Stephen Butina and the Outinen brothers (Alex and Christopher) have been in the lineup for both of those events and should be today.

Any of them could make noise in the individual race, as could Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Trevor Ongie.

The girls are in town at Escanaba Country Club this year, as Ontonagon and Jeffers try to contend with defending champ Munising.