Golf is very much an individual sport. You hit the drive, you chip out of the bunker and you make (or miss) the putt. But in high school, the team aspect comes into play and it played into Skyline’s favor this weekend at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 State Finals.
Skyline shot an opening-round 292 on Friday and led by five strokes over Detroit Catholic Central despite their usual top player having a somewhat off day – for him, anyway.
But good teammates and good players pick each other up and Skyline has plenty of good teammates and good players.
“Luke Richard, my junior, shot his best season score on Friday in the five spot,” Skyline Coach Ashley Mantha said. “Normally he’s in the high 70s but he got a 74 for us, which counted because my No. 1 shot his worst score (on Friday). You can talk about how we should play, but he really played to the moment.”
Skyline’s great individual play and team mentality added up to a Division 1 State Title as the Eagles landed four players among the top 25 and carded a team score of 594 to win it all on Saturday at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West in East Lansing.
“I’m still on an emotional roller coaster and loving every minute of it,” Mantha said the day after Skyline’s first ever state title in golf. “One minute tears of joy, the next stunned, and then elated and pure excitement.
“I know there were inklings of this potential throughout the season but to actually stay steadfast and be named the best D1 team in the state, just no words for it right now. The mental toughness, maturity, and tenacity exhibited by our team is on another level for such young guys.”
Detroit Catholic Central was second (603) followed by Traverse City West and Forest Hills Northern (each at 613). Brighton was seventh (620), Dexter took 16th (670) and Saline was 17th (671) in the 18-team field.
Brighton’s Davis Codd was the top individual player with a 140 (73-67). Three players tied for second overall with a 143 including Skyline freshman Leuan Jones (71-72).
Skyline, No. 1 ranked to start the season, went wire to wire as the top team in the state. They won the SEC title, took first at the Regional at Dearborn CC and went undefeated in dual-meets. A perfect season in a sport where “perfect” rarely comes into play.
And maybe experience is a little overrated. The Eagles teed up a lineup with two freshman and another player who also had never played in a state finals. Despite the inexperience, they showed great poise and focus and never let any pressure get to them.
“They really didn’t understand what all the hype was, which kind of served as a good thing, to not know exactly what they were getting into,” said Mantha. “But once they got here, they understood what I was talking about. Fortunately, our (program has) been here before so I could share with the newbies on what to expect.”
Skyline had four players place among the individual top 25. Along with Jones and his 143, Skyline’s card included freshman Vibhav Alokam (tied for 13th with a 149), senior Vimal Alokam (T-23 with a 152) and sophomore Mitchell Strickland (T-23 with a 152). Richard, a junior, was just one stroke behind his two teammates with a 153.
“Usually, we’re the underdogs (coming into a state final), so there was a big role reversal (Saturday),” Mantha said. “We’ve never been in this situation so how do we prepare for people coming for us, so to speak? Each player has like a key phrase I can use to get them in the right head space. We talk about things like how they play with their buddies, or I say ‘Washtenaw,’ just little things that kind of bring them back down to their own game.”
And “their own game” is a pretty impressive game – best in the state!
Tom Lang (MHSAA Second Half) contributed to this report.
Main team photo courtesy of the MHSAA
Other photos by Terry Jacoby/WLAA