MONTAGUE – The Montague girls golf team is not used to being challenged very often.
Over the past two seasons, the Wildcats have been so good that they typically ran away with many tournament titles.
Last season, for instance, Montague won the Division 4 state championship tournament by an incredible 27 shots.
The Wildcats were nowhere near that dominant at the 2021 state finals on Friday and Saturday at Forest Akers East golf course at Michigan State University, but they demonstrated that they could handle the pressure when pushed.
Montague and Lansing Catholic both finished with two-day team scores of 675, but the Wildcats won their second straight state title using the “fifth score” formula.
Their fifth best individual score was four shots better than Lansing Catholic’s on Friday, and six shots better on Saturday, so the Wildcats were 10 shots better and kept their crown.
“We were down one stroke overall after Friday,” said Montague head coach Phil Kerr. “We knew it wasn’t much, and we discussed the fifth-score tiebreaker, which came into play. We knew our fifth score was better than theirs. It gave us confidence, if it ended in a tie, that we’d have the advantage.”
Montague was only able to achieve the tie, and then win through the tie-breaker formula, because junior Natalie Kellogg, who was the last Wildcat on the course on Saturday, finished her round with a crucial two-putt.
“I don’t think Natalie knew exactly where we stood,” said Kerr, who witnessed Kellogg’s final shots. “She may have had sense of it, though, because I always meet and greet all the seniors when they come off the course at their last event, but I was there watching her, and she’s a junior, so she was surprised to see me there. She kind of knew something was up and knew it was close.
“But she hit a beautiful shot, and she had to two-putt, and she did with a short tap-in. It was nerve wracking. I ran over and gave her a big hug and told her she won the title for us and she started crying.”
While Kellogg and Kerr were out on the course, the rest of the Wildcats were in the clubhouse waiting as patiently as they could for news about the outcome.
“We were trying to add up all the scores and were all huddling around,” said senior Orianna Bylsma. “I think we just kind of kept on adding the scores and double-checking to be sure. We knew our fifth score was better and that if we tied, we’d win.”
The happy emotions were on full display when the good news came, according to senior Gabriella Moreau.
“As soon as I found out, I hugged Orianna and started sobbing,” she said. “It was so stressful, even when we finished. It was so emotional and I just felt a lot of relief.”
Kerr credits Montague’s depth for the repeat state title. All five Wildcats finished in the top 21 in the tournament. Leading the way was Bylsma in seventh place with a two-day score of 165, followed by Moreau (168, 10th) sophomore Mackenzie Goudreau (170, 13th), senior Claire Meacham (174, 18th) and Kellogg (175, 21st).
“We didn’t have to ask our top performers to be incredible each day,” said Kerr about the team’s depth. “Gabby, for example, was our lowest score on the first day and our highest on the second. It’s just a testament to our depth in the program, and it’s been the case for us over the last few years.”
“It feels amazing, I really have no words to describe it,” Bylsma said. “I’m overwhelmed with joy and happiness. Everyone was so supportive of us, and just being able to repeat what we did last year is amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Moreau hopes that the team’s success will inspire other Montague athletes, current and future.
“I hope that it motivates others. because it brings excitement and success to Montague,” she said. “I hope that rubs off and pushes them to want to reach that success. I also hope that girls can take the fact that they can join golf late and still be good. I didn’t join till my freshman year, and it kind of shows you can become good in a short amount of time. You can grow as both a person and an athlete in this program.”