One team has been there before, 11 times in the last 12 years.
For the other, it’s a brand new experience.
But both the Brighton and Hartland golf teams are hoping for big things starting today, when the Division 1 state golf meet begins at Forest Akers Golf Course in East Lansing.
Brighton, which has one senior in its lineup, is the perennial finals participant, but coach Paul Parsell never finds it routine.
“No, it’s not. Its a lot of fun to do every year,” Parsell said. “We look forward to this time and we’ve een very fortunate to have a good string going. Very fortunate. Eveyr year with a few different girls, and I’m excited for them to experience it.”
His two top golfers, Annie Pietila and Heather Fortushniak, have been red-hot on the course in the last couple of weeks, and are looking forward to more than just the experience.
“I know I’m not going to be as nervous,” said Pietila, a sophomore who shot 72 at Monday’s KLAA meet and 71 at last week’s regional. “Last year I was nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself and I didn’t play good last year. This year I’m going ot keep it cool and calm and just act like it’s a regular round of golf.”
She didn’t show signs of nerves as the Bulldogs gathered for the drive to East Lansing on Thursday, laughing as teammates chased her in the parking lot with mock threats of stealing her baseball cap.
Heather Fortushniak, who also has been on a tear, says last year’s experience in cold, wintry conditions at Grand Valley State should come in handy this weekend, on a familiar course with much more pleasant conditions.
“We still have nerves, I bet, but I think our season has prepared us,” the junior said. “We’ve worked hard for states, we’ve worked hard to get to states, so I think that was our main goal. I think we’re prepared, and we’ve done well this season, and we hope we can carry it to the tournament this weekend.”
All this for a team whom outsiders likely wrote off at the beginning of the season, when the reigning Miss Golf, Julia Dean, was forced to miss the season due to an injury.
“It was very unfortunate that she was unable to play because of the injury,” Parsell said, “but the girls have all stepped up, scoring wise. We haven’t missed a beat, as far as that’s concerned. We’d be lower with her, obviously, if she was here, but in terms of what we did last year, the scores are similar. We shot 310 this year, which was one off the record, and we shot 309 last year, which was the record.”
Hartland coach Mike Joseph was overcome with emotion last week when the Eagles qualified for the state tournament after four near-misses by a stroke in the past.
On Thursday, the emotion was replaced by confidence in a team that also has been playing well.
“We’re very excited.,” he said. “We went out for a practice round last Friday (at Forest Akers), and the girls are very motivated, very excited to be there. Practices this week have been a lot of fun, becuase of the excitement of going to hte state finals.”
The team set a school scoring record in Monday’s KLAA meet, and Sydney Bradford, another sophomore, set a school record with a 76.
“We feel real good,” Joseph said. “When we qualified for states, I think that added a new level of confidence for our team, and I believe that’s why we did so well at the association tournament.”
As for challenges, Joseph struck a familiar chord.
“:I think the biggest thing we have to look out for are the nerves,” he said. “We’re going to e a little bit nervous the first couple of holes. The course itself is pretty straightforward. The greens are a little different htan what we’re used to, but they didn’t seem too difficult for the girls. So mainly, just try to keep the emotions under control. and that’s going to be the biggest thing for our team.”
Nervousness was far from a concern as the Bulldogs loaded their gear, with laughter and music blasting in the parking lot at Sloan Field.
With confidence in her voice, Pietila was asked if the state meet wasn’t more of a business trip.
“Yeah,” she said, giggling. “But it’s going to be a fun business trip.”