By Andrew Johnson
SPRING LAKE – Can the Spring Lake girls golf team pull a three-peat?
The Lakers have won the Division 3 state championship for the past two years. They were particularly impressive last season, running away with the state title and finishing with the best score of any of the four championship teams.
They will try to keep the streak going in the Division 3 state finals on Friday and Saturday at Bedford Creek Golf Course in Battle Creek.
Reeths-Puffer will compete in the Division 2 finals at Grand Valley State University while North Muskegon will compete in the Division 4 finals at Michigan State University.
Spring Lake Coach George Bitner believes his team has a pretty good chance of going all the way again, after winning regionals last weekend with a team score of 348. Second-place Whitehall, which also qualified for state, finished 52 shots behind.
“The girls and myself feel we have a chance to win a title again,” Bitner said. “We were the only ones to break 400 in our regional. We have seen scores of the teams ahead of us through the year and they aren’t scary scores. We can see what they’ve shot and we have a very good chance.”
Part of Bitner’s confidence comes from his team’s depth. The Lakers have five golfers who average a score of under 44 per nine holes. Senior Anna Kramer, the defending state individual champion, leads the team with a 36.76 average, followed by Madelyn Nelson (40.27), Jaedyn Shelton (41.54), Jackie Olszewski (42.08) and Hannah Klein (43.39).
Nelson and Klein were also among the Lakers’ top five golfers at last year’s state finals.
“I don’t think any of the teams are as deep as we are, and the talent typically pays off,” Bitner said.
While depth is a strength, it helps to have a star, and Kramer fits that bill.
During the summer Kramer won the Women’s Golf Association of Michigan tournament and finished in the top 16 of the Michigan Women’s Amateur.
“I call her the franchise,” Bitner said. “I’m going to miss her when she’s gone. She went to the number four instructor in the United States and he told Anna that she was off the charts. She’s improved every year and I’m sure she’ll do the same in college.”
While some teams may struggle to maintain chemistry when one member grabs the headlines like Kramer, that’s not the case with the Lakers, according to Bitner.
“These girls are more serious about the game than I’ve ever seen,” the coach said. “There is no jealousy at all. They’re just a thick team that has stuck together and helps each other.”
After back-to-back state titles, it’s hard to imagine that the 2016 Lakers could be better than the previous teams, particularly last year’s squad.
The Lakers cruised to the 2015 Division 4 title by finishing a jaw-dropping 70 strokes better than second-place Goodrich.
But Bitner is convinced this year’s Lakers, who won the O-K Blue Conference title by 331 shots, could be superior.
“It’s more balanced this year,” he said. “We’ve had real good success. I wasn’t planning on them being better this year than last. But they enjoy the game and just want to keep improving. We don’t have any slackers.”