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Defending state champion Montague girls golf team is looking like a contender to win it all again

MONTAGUE – The Montague girls golf program is only in its sixth year of existence, but it’s already a state powerhouse in Division 4, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Last year, the Wildcats brought home the Division 4 state championship by finishing with a score of 343 at the state finals at Forest Akers West Golf Course on the campus of Michigan State University.

They outshot second place Lansing Catholic by 27 strokes in a runaway performance.

This season, it appears that the road for Montague may be more challenging, but the Wildcats are still expected to compete for a second straight crown.

Montague girls golf team members (from left): Mackenzie Goudreau, Claire Meacham, Orianna Bylsma, Gabriella Moreau, Isabelle McKeown, Natalie Kellogg

While no official rankings have been released yet, the Wildcats are currently averaging a Division 4 team score of 170.3 per nine holes, which is tops in the state. Remus Chippewa Hills is second  with an average of 171.6.

“This year is a lot more competitive,” said Montague head coach Phil Kerr. “A lot more competition has risen up and is going to challenge us. But hopefully our experience will play a big role.”

Montague returns three members of its five-person lineup from the state title team – senior Orianna Bylsma, senior Gabriella Moreau and sophomore Mackenzie Goudreau. Junior Natalie Kellogg and senior Claire Meacham also returned to the team, despite not playing in the state finals last year.

“I think it’s a huge advantage,” said Kerr about having so much experienced on his roster. “It’s something that is going to help us big time down the stretch. Each of the girls has played and are battle-tested.”

Montague’s Gabby Moreau

A typical lineup for Montague has Bylsma (83.3 average per 18 holes), Goudreau (85.8), Moreau (90.2), Kellogg (91.3) and Meacham (93.20). In events that allow six golfers, senior Isabelle McKeown plays.

Bylsma is currently ranked sixth in the Division 4 individually while Goudreau is ranked 11th.

Both Bylsma and Moreau played in the state finals in 2019 (when the Wildcats finished fourth) and 2020. Goudreau played in the finals last year.

“Our top two players have been in the state finals two years in a row,” the coach said. “Our top three have been in the state finals once. I trust them all in the big moments. I know they won’t go out there and shoot a score that’s uncharacteristic, because it’s a big moment.”

Bylsma, who was first team All-State last year, provides the leadership and guidance for the Wildcats, due to her three previous years of varsity experience.

“I think being a leader holds great value,” Bylsma said. “It’s my responsibility as a senior. I’ve been on the team four years now and I’ve really seen this program grow. I try to help us move in the right direction and raise everyone up.”

Montague’s Orianna Bylsma

Part of what has helped Bylsma grow as a leader is improving the mental side of her golf game.

“I remember being a freshman or sophomore on varsity and it was really cool,” she said. “But I would be so hard on myself as I looked up to the seniors and I wanted to be perfect, like I was an LPGA player or something. Now I’ve accepted my strengths and weaknesses and target those weaknesses, and I think it’s improved my mental game.”

The Wildcats have challenged themselves early in the season with tough tournaments.

Montague won the Mona Shores Invitational, Whitehall Invitational and Traverse City West Invitational, and recently finished second at its own tournament.

The Wildcats’ fourth-place finish at an event in the Detroit area may be most impressive.

As the only Division 4 school in the 19-team field at a tournament at Kensington Metropark Golf Course, the Wildcats finished fifth overall behind three Division 1 teams and one Division 3 team.

“We finished fifth, but we shot the best ever in the history of our program with a score of 336,” Kerr said. “The four teams ahead of us were all programs in the top 10 of their divisions. I feel like that was a big test for us, and it was great to see our girls shoot the best we’ve ever shot.”

Bylsma is hopeful that she’ll end her high school golf career in a month with one more state championship.

“That would be awesome,” she said. “That’s the end goal. It’d be so amazing to achieve it with my teammates. It would mean so much to the team and me personally. We’ve put in the work and have the determination.”