Saline, Pioneer girls golf teams battle elements to earn state finals bids
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Pioneer High School girls golf coach Steve Rodriguez subscribes to the adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
So before his players took to the course for Wednesday’s regional tournament at Pine View Golf Club in Ypsilanti, he made sure everyone was equipped with gloves, handwarmers, wool socks, hats with earwarmers and multiple layers.
And on a day that featured wind, rain, hail and cold temperatures, being well-dressed was no small part of success.
“I think we were pretty well prepared,” Rodriguez said.
When the players emerged from a round of golf that featured wild weather changes, Pioneer had grabbed one of three spots in the state tournament, along with Southeastern Conference rival Saline.
The two teams advance to the Division 1 finals Oct. 19-20 at Forest Akers East in East Lansing.
Saline took second in Wednesday’s regional with a 349, 19 shots behind winner Plymouth. Pioneer shot a 361.
Huron High School senior Madison Smith also earned a spot in the state finals. Her 81 was one of the top three scores turned in by a player not on a state qualifying team.
Saline and Pioneer have both become fixtures on the state golf scene. Pioneer has qualified in 23 in the past 26 years, and Saline extended its five-year qualifying streak.
And after playing close matches all season, the two teams will join each other in the final tournament of the year. Pioneer edged Saline by five shots in a league triangular meet in September, before Saline won the league title three days later.
The Hornets have finished in the top four of the state tournament in each of the last three years, and are looking for a similar performance next weekend.
“I think that’s a lofty goal, but we’d like to try to reach it,” Saline coach Betsy French said. “I know we have the potential to do that.”
For Pioneer, this year’s qualifying comes with a team that features one senior, one junior two sophomores and a freshman.
“It’s always nice to go, but when you have a young team and you could give the experience to go to the state tournament, it’s not something you can coach very easily,” Rodriguez said. “Experience is experience, and the one way you can get it is to play.”
Saline junior Emily White was the top local finisher, finishing tied for second with a 78. Plymouth’s Kelsey Murphy won medalist honors with a 74. Smith’s 81 was good for fifth overall.
White will now return to the tournament she finished fifth in last year, and said she’s shooting for a top two finish this season.
“I’m really excited to go again, it’s really fun,” White said. “Some of the girls might be nervous because some of them haven’t played at the state tournament, but I think they’re really excited for it.”
"We've played in some pretty good tournaments this year, and we've played against some of the best teams in our division, so we know what to expect."