BY CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI
— TRAVERSE CITY — If first impressions mean anything, it appears Farmington Hills Mercy is going to be a major player in the state championship chase this season in girls golf.
One season removed from a runner-up finish in Division 1, the Marlins started their season on Wednesday by shooting a 343 on the Wolverine course at the Grand Traverse Resort, for a 16-stroke lead after the first day of the 27-team Lober Invitational.
Mercy, which took second to Plymouth a year ago, was in top form right from the start despite graduating three seniors off last year’s squad.
“I’m really pleased with how we played today,” said Mercy head coach Vicky Kowalski. “I wasn’t sure what we’d have coming back, but the girls were ready to step in. We have no superstars on our team, just steady players. We have a senior-laden team. I think I have four girls who can shoot 84 or lower.”
The Marlins were led by Erica Heath, who shot an 82, which was good for second overall. Dearborn’s Elyana Bowser carded an 80 for the first day’s top honors.
Brighton was second with a 359, followed by Rochester (363), Holt (372) and Davison (373). Traverse City West was ninth out of the 11 teams competing in Division 1 with a 424, while Traverse City Central’s gold team was tied for 10th out of the 16 teams in Division 2-4 with a 429. Grand Rapids South Christian was the top Division 2-4 team with a 377 with Grosse Ile sitting 10 strokes back. Glen Lake, which was led by Nichole Cox’s 84, was tied with Grand Rapids Catholic Central for fourth with a 406.
Glen Lake, playing on Spruce Run, improved as the day went along.
“Four of our five girls played the second nine better than the first nine,” Lakers coach Paul Christiansen said “It will be interesting (today) because The Wolverine is a different style course. It has a different flavor to it.”
Cox, a freshman, was one of those that shot better on the second nine with a 44-40.
“She’s got a beautiful swing, a lot club speed,” Christiansen said. “She’s really worked at it. She’s been involved in the Junior Elite program at Crystal for a few years. What I like best is her attitude. She doesn’t put a lot of pressure on herself. She’s very upbeat and can forget a bad shot quickly. She’s played enough that she can self-correct while she’s playing.”
Nicole Pace added a 103, Madison Hill 109, Skylar Gleason 110 and Melanie Kulanda 124 for the Lakers.
Carley Laird shot a 145 to lead the TC Central Black, which had a team score of 612.
For West, Wednesday’s round was a case of being thrown into the fire as the Titans were breaking in three inexperienced players. Taylor Kehoe led the Titans with a 95, including a 41 in her first nine holes. Hunter Kehoe followed with a 101, while Grace Ellul (105), Erica Whiting (123), Summer Slack (124) and Grace Warren (155) rounded out the West scores.
“Three of my girls have never really played in an 18-hole tournament so it was a fresh start for them, but they did really well,” said West coach Kristen Nolan. “They had really good course management and played to the best of their abilities, and we’re going to come back tomorrow and hopefully drop the scores at least 5-10 strokes. My low girl, Taylor, other than the 10 she had she played pretty solid. Hopefully tomorrow she can keep it together and not have any more high scores.”
Taylor Kehoe was able to bounce back from a 10 on her second hole (No. 17) to score well on her first nine.
“Lately I’ve been working on my mental game because that’s a weakness for me,” said Kehoe. “I do Junior Elite out at Crystal (Mountain) and I talked to the guy that runs it, Scott Wilson, he gave me a lot of great tips on mental stuff — stay in the now and not worry about the shots behind you. That hole I was in a lot of tough spots, too. I definitely could’ve done better, but I was in hard positions.”
Kehoe was at 1-over-par after seven holes on her final nine, but struggled in the last two holes.
“I definitely think I could’ve played better,” she said. “There were very strong winds so that was kind of tough to play around. Your second shot was way off the green a lot of times. My putting could have been better on the one nine, but the first nine went pretty well. It was just the last nine. The last two holes kind of got to me.”
Central’s gold team was paced by Amelia Pezzetti’s 89. Zoe Sobeck was second on the Trojans with a 100. Katie Trubac (116), Ashley Hulet (124), Molly Smith (143) and Abbie Crick (144) had the other Central scores.
“I think they didn’t do as badly as some thought they would, but some of them played worse than they thought they would,” said Central coach Lois McManus. “But you know what, it’s warm and it’s the first day out. We’ve only had practice for a week. I’m always proud of them. I’m only ever disappointed because they’re disappointed with themselves. That makes it hard because then you have to try and lift them up. We only had five come back and all the rest of them are brand new so I know they were very, very nervous. Even the returners were very nervous this morning.”
Pezzetti shot a 39 on her front nine, but carded a 50 on the second nine.
“I started off really well. Then, I don’t know what happened,” said Pezzetti. “The back nine is harder on the Wolverine, I think. Then it got really windy, so that definitely affected it, and my yardages were a little bit off on the back nine, so that probably affected it.”
Pezzetti thinks she’ll have a better outing on day two at the Spruce Run course.
“I like Spruce a lot better,” she said. “It’s more of my home course. I’ll definitely get up and practice again in the morning and try to get my rhythm back and just play the best I can.”
Kowalski believes her team can play better for the second day as well, as it tries to hold its sizable lead.
“I think we can do it,” she said. “My No. 2 (Alysa Graf) shot a 103 today and a couple other girls said they could fix some other things.”