State golf roundup: Catholic Central’s Niles is Division 1 champ

Al Willman
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit Catholic Central senior Sean Niles orchestrated perhaps one of the best one-year turnarounds this weekend, after finishing tied for 15th place in last spring’s Division 1 golf finals at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.

Niles, with a 5-under 139, became Catholic Central’s first individual state champion on Saturday at Forest Akers West on Michigan State’s campus, three strokes in front of Plymouth’s Justin Kapke. C.C. won its third straight team title with a two-day score of 581, 16 strokes ahead of Grosse Pointe South, which finished second.

“It feels great, really,” Niles said. “Compared to last year, I’m hitting it way, way better. It’s nice to be at a different venue. I think I missed four fairways in the tournament. I think we’re more comfortable here than at The Meadows. I think I’ve played 15 competitive rounds there total, including these two.”

It was easy to detect the pride in Catholic Central coach Mike Anderson’s voice when it came to Niles, who is committed to play at Oakland University.

“It’s pretty special for sure,” Anderson said. “He’s the first golfer in C.C. history to be the medalist in the state finals, so we’re pretty proud of him. Sean has matured a lot. He started playing for us as a sophomore. His sophomore year, he had the third-best stroke average on the team and I elected not to play him in the regionals or state finals that year because I didn’t think he was ready. He looked at it as a learning experience (and) continued to work on his game. I think Sean has started to learn really how good he can be.”

Catholic Central had two more in the top five, individually. James Piot (MSU commit) was fourth with a 2-over 146, while Ben Smith (Georgia Tech) was fifth with a 4-over 148.

“This year, they were spectacular,” Anderson said. “When these five played together, they never lost an event. One of the five of them was a medalist in every event they played in. They’re a very, very deep and talented group of young men. James and Ben are the two top players. I know they feel like they both could’ve done better, but they played solid. Their golf careers are just getting started. They’re going to do really good things in the game of golf for a long time.”

Graduating five seniors in total, with Sean Sooch going off to Grand Valley and Dylan Skinner contemplating a collegiate career, Anderson said he expects a learning curve, but is at the same time confident in his younger golfers.

“We’ve got a lot of great young players,” he said. “Is there going to be a dropoff? It’s hard to say there’s not going to be a dropoff when there’s five guys going to play at Division I or high competitive levels. We’re very excited about the young players who are going to be playing for us next year. It’s going to be different because we won’t have the experience we’ve had in the past, but there’s a great level of talent in these younger players who will be playing for us next year.”

Anderson mentioned sophomores Andrew Lack, Kyle Sabo and Carter Cojei as those who particularly stood out.

“They all have the talent to play at this level,” Niles said. “It’s all about what they’re going to do at the next level with this talent.”

Division 1 Top Five

1. Detroit Catholic Central, 581

2. Grosse Pointe South, 597

3. Plymouth, 610

4. Clarkston, 619

5. Rockford, 622

Division 2

St. Johns won the title at The Meadows, shooting a 603. Flint Powers Catholic, with a 627, was the runner-up. St. Johns’ top golfer, Zach Rosendale, won the individual championship with a two-under, 142. The runner-up, East Lansing’s Tony Fuentes, shot a two-over, 146.

Division 2 Top Five

1. St. Johns, 603

2. Flint Powers Catholic, 627

3. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern, 642

4. Grosse Ile, 645

5. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 646

Division 3

Jackson Lumen Christi took the D3 championship at Katke Golf Course, on Ferris State University’s campus, with a 639. Big Rapids was the runner-up with a 647. Matt Good (Charlevoix) won the individual title with a 6-over 150 in a playoff over Daniel Shattuck (Tawas).

Division 3 Top Five

1. Jackson Lumen Christi, 639

2. Big Rapids, 647

3. Grand Rapids West Catholic, 659

4. Tawas, 663

5. Hanover-Horton, 664

Division 4

It was a family affair for Clarkston Everest Collegiate golfers — and cousins — Joey McMahon and Mitch Lowney, who helped guide Everest Collegiate to its second straight Division 4 state championship at Forest Akers East.

Everest Collegiate, with a two-day total of 629, finished 11 strokes better than Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. Lowney, the younger cousin, was the runner-up individually, shooting a one-under 143, four strokes behind Clinton’s Austin Fauser.

“He’s a stud,” Everest Collegiate seventh-year coach David Smith said of Lowney, a sophomore. “He’s going to be really good for years to come. He just gets the game and understands it. He loves the competition. He’s been very consistent this season.”

McMahon, Everest’s lone senior, was in a three-way tie for eighth with Suttons Bay’s Thomas Hursey and Lansing Christian’s Parker Jamieson, with an 8-over 152.

“The wind was really blowing today,” Smith said. “He maybe hit only five or six greens and shot that.”

JC James, who struggled with an 13-over 85 on Friday, improved eight shots — finishing with his first-career sub-80 round.

“That was a giant improvement,” Smith said of James, who shot a 78 on Saturday. “We won by 11 and that was a giant part of it.”

While Smith admitted that Lowney is the better of the two cousins, the relationship between the two is more about respect and less about the smack talk you might expect from relatives on the course.

“Mitch could chirp if he wanted, but he’s got that respect for (Joey), so he doesn’t,” Smith said. “There’s some motivation to play well, absolutely. It’s a ‘You play your best and I’m still going to beat you’ sort of thing.”

McMahon and Lowney said the majority of Everest's students play at least two sports, while some play three or four. That, they said, helped play a role in the back-to-back championships, still the only state titles in any sport at the school.

"That just strengthens the bond," Lowney said. "The friendship and team chemistry is really strong."

Even with McMahon graduating, he said he's confident in a possible run for Everest at title No. 3.

"I just know I see the will (in the team) to get better each day," McMahon said. "They're going to be hungry to win No. 3."

Division 4 Top Five

1. Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 629

2. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 640

3. Kalamazoo Christian, 653

4. Lansing Christian, 659

5. Kalamazoo Hackett, 661

Al Willman is a freelance writer.