Brighton, Hartland girls begin state golf meet today

Brighton coach Paul Parsell, far right, talks with his team during its final practice at Oak Pointe Country Club on Tuesday. The Bulldogs are among the favorites in the Division 1 state tournament, which begins today at Grand Valley State University. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
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There’s not much doubt the Brighton girls golf team is a favorite in the Division 1 golf state tournament, which begins today.

The question is, can the Bulldogs get there and finally claim the title that has eluded them for more than two decades?

Hartland coach Mike Joseph, who has seen this year’s Brighton team often this season, believes it can happen.

“I think Brighton’s got to be the favorite,” he said. “They’ve been playing very well, their scores have been very consistent, they’re solid 1-5, and I like their chances to win the state this year.

“Traverse City West is going to be in the mix, and I think Saline will be in the mix,” Joseph added. “They’re the top three teams up there, but I like Brighton’s chances.”

The key, Bulldogs coach Paul Parsell says, is between the ears.

“Skill-wise, were there at the top of the state, and I would put my five girls against anyone’s five girls,” he said. “We should be in the mix, for sure. So it’s just playing within ourselves. We don’t have to get crazy and shoot low. Our averages should be there at the end. We just want to make sure we play within ourseles and have that first day be in the mix. They say you can’t win it on the first day, but you can lose it on the first day.”

The Bulldogs have a top four in Heather Fortushniak, Annie Pietila, Autumn Blaney and Maggie Pietila who have been shooting consistenly around 80 this season, with Annie Pietila and Fortushniak dipping consistently into the 70s. Pietila shot a 72 and Fortushniak 76 at last week’s regional.

Parsell has been working on his team’s mental game the last couple of weeks, and he’ll find out today if that work pays off.

“I think the key is to think of it as another tournament, said senior Emme Darkowski. “You have to play your game. You can’t think of it what the field does. You just shoot your best.”

Coach Mike Joseph, far left, and his Hartland golf team are looking for a top-10 finish at Grand Valley State this weekend. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

Hartland, on the other hand, is aiming for better results this weekend than last year, when the Eagles were in the team finals for the first time in school history.

“We were really happy to be there last year,” Joseph said of a performance that saw the jittery Eagles finish 17th in an 18-team field. “Right from the end of the tournament last year, the girls were already talking about how we’re not going to do this next year. We’re going to be ready to go, and we’ve been preparing very well.”

Hartland has just one senior, Sammi Behen, on a roster that includes freshmen Andrea Brown and Violet Sinishtaj, who regularly have scored in meets for the Eagles this season.

“Every now and then we’ll have a freshman in our top five,” Joseph said. “But it’s rare to have two. They’ve stepped up this year and handled the pressure and helped us get to the finals.”

And, like the Bulldogs, the Eagles will be concentrating on calming their nerves.

“I expect to do a lot better because we won’t be as nervous (as last year) and we won’t have as much pressure,” Behen said.

Joseph says his team is looking to finish in the top 10 this season with a young team that should not only improve this year but perhaps be even better next season.

“We’re pretty excited about next year,” Joseph said. “We want to keep building. We want this to be an annual event, where we go to the state finals every year.”

The tournament begins at 10 a.m. today and concludes Saturday.