Oakland County teams in state golf title hunt
Coach Monty Gallaher remembers it was just a few short years ago when his Lake Orion’s girls golf team was celebrating a team score near 400. He also remembers 2007 when the Dragons captured the Division 1 state championship.
"It was only 3-4 years ago where we struggled to even break 400," Gallaher said. "Two years ago we averaged a little more than 400 and last year we lowered it to around 360. This year we are down to around (325)."
Lake Orion has been ranked in the top five all season after finishing 10th at the finals last October. The Dragons have finished in the top five at all seven of their tournaments this season including their first Oakland County Division I Tournament on Sept. 17. That county tournament featured eight other schools ranked in one of the state’s four divisions.
"It’s strange, but (our state championship) team went back-and-forth with Rochester and a couple of other schools that year," said Gallaher, the junior varsity coach on ’07. "They put it all together the final weeks of the season. But then we graduated all of that talent and we struggled for a few years. Last year is when we started to turn the corner. We qualified for the state finals. We started to get some more experienced players a couple of years ago and now we have improved by more than 80 strokes as a team over the past couple of seasons."
Lake Orion was ranked No. 1 for more than a month this season. The Dragons slipped to No. 3 this week, as league rival Troy took over the top spot in a year where seven or eight schools have a realistic shot at the title.
"There’s a lot of parity in our league, let alone the state," said Gallaher, noting the depth of the Oakland Activities Association Red Division this season/
The Red has five teams ranked in the top 10.
In addition to Lake Orion and Troy, Red Division members Rochester and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek are ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, in Division 1. Birmingham Seaholm is ranked No. 2 in Division 2 after being No. 1 for the past month. Kensington Lakes Activities Association member South Lyon is ranked No. 1.
Even Auburn Hills Avondale of the OAA White Division is ranked (No. 8 in Division 2), giving the OAA six ranked schools. The Yellowjackets qualified for the state finals last season for the first time in school history.
"I think playing against such good competition at every tournament, it helps you focus and keep up your confidence," said Gallaher. "Knowing that if you don’t have a good day, that there is a team that will beat you, it really helps you focus on every stroke. We have seen a lot of the ranked teams in Division 1 and Division 2, so we know that we are right there. I think we’ll have a shot at the end of the season. We have five good golfers who have all been really consistent, which is key in (team) golf.
Troy placed third at the state finals last season and finished no worse than fourth in six tournaments this season.
"The parity in our league is incredible, having five ranked teams from our division," said Troy coach John Getzan. "Both us and Lake Orion have been ranked in the top five in the state all season and neither of us even won our league. Seaholm won the OAA-Red and is one of the best teams in Division 2. Then there’s Rochester and Stoney Creek that are ranked and having great seasons. We could have five teams from our division of the OAA playing in the state finals."
While Troy and sixth-ranked Dearborn will battle it out at the Sylvan Glen regional Wednesday, Lake Orion, Rochester and Stoney Creek will join fourth-ranked Davison in a cluster of four ranked teams at Lapeer Country Club regional, also on Wednesday.
"It’s going to be very tough," said Rochester coach Jeff Haney. "When you have four ranked teams in one regional, one of the best in the state will not be at the state finals. There will be no room for error."
The task is especially for Rochester. Much like Lake Orion’s ’07 championship squad, Rochester only competes with four players on varsity. The Falcons’ junior varsity golf team does not have any players capable of breaking 120 this season, so Haney has opted not to play with a fifth golfer in varsity tournaments.
"If it went down to a fifth golfer, we would not make it," he said. "There really isn’t anyone down there that is ready, so we play with four. And we have been fine all season."
Rochester qualified for the state finals 15 straight times before finishing fourth (the top three qualify) at the regional each of the past two years, missing out by only a couple of strokes each time. The Falcons, who recently edged Troy and Lake Orion at the Great Oaks Invitational on the Falcons’ home course, are quickly on the rise with three sophomores and a freshman comprising their team.
Rochester won four state titles and twice placed second. The Falcons have made the finals 15 of the last 17 seasons.
"It’s strange," Haney said. "We have had a very good season, but we finished fourth in our league and are ranked fifth in the state. We shot 337 at our first league tournament and tied for fourth and then shot 333 at our second league tournament and finished fourth. That says a lot about the quality of golf in our league. Lake Orion, Troy and Seaholm are all very good. Now, we hope to do really well at our region. Our league has helped us prepare for our tough region. Our goal is to make it back to the finals."