HARTLAND — It was a long wait for Hartland girls golf coach Mike Joseph.
He watched the leaderboard as scores were being recorded, hoping against hope but preparing for the worst.
“It seemed like hours,” he said afterward, laughing.
After 17 years and four near-misses, his Eagles qualified for next week’s state meet for the first time on Wednesday after finishing third overall.
Even when it became apparent his team was going to get in, the final confirmation overwhelmed him.
“I don’t know if I can talk,” he said, fighting back tears. “I was real happy with their scores. I know they weren’t (happy), I think a couple of them felt they could have done better, but that’s always the case when you’re on the course. But it wasn’t about the individual scores. It was about the team scores. It’s all about the team. I feel so proud of the kids.
“We’re in,” he said, his voice thickening again. “Seventeen years. We finally made it. We’re happy.”
Brighton won the tournament, shooting a 314 that was 28 strokes better than second-place Lapeer. The Bulldogs had two golfers under 80. Annie Pietila was the medalist with a 1-under-par 71, and Heather Fortushniak was third overall at 76.
“I had a bad hole,” Pietila said, “with a double (bogey), but I came back after that, which was good. I was able to keep control of my emotions without falling apart.”
“It was beautiful,” Brighton coach Paul Parsell said, speaking of both his team’s performance and the weather, which was sunny and in the upper 70s. “A lot of girls shot their lowest scores of the year, and our 3-4-5 players had a couple of best 9-hole scores on the front and back nines.”
The Division 1 state meet is next week at East Lansing, and the Bulldogs are confident.
“I think we’ve been ready for a while,” Pietila said. “We’re all playing really good and we’re prepared for what (the state meet) is going to be like.”
The KLAA meet, which was rescheduled to Oct. 10 after a rainout, comes at a good time.
“I wanted to play an extra 18 holes the week of states or at least that close,” Parsell said. “So to have that on Monday is definitely helpful. … I’m happy for the girls. They’ve worked really hard, all last year and into the summer, and it’s good to come here and go back-to-back at regionals.”
Howell finished ninth overall at 379, a stroke behind Grand Blanc.
The Eagles, meanwhile, celebrated their own accomplishment and reveled in what it meant to their coach.
“It definitely is a thrill,” said Hartland’s Sydney Bradford, who led the Eagles with an 82. “I think we have a really good team this year, and I hope we will next year, too.”
“We lost, I believe, four regionals by one stroke,” Joseph said, “which is hard to take becuase you live with it for about a year, and today we finally got over the hump. I’m so impressed with the girls. They ground it out — grinded it out? — ground it out for the wholeway today. They never gave up. Their scores weren’t exactly what they wanted today. They had some goals they wanted to shoot today, but it was good enough.”
Joseph’s joy in his team’s achievement was shared by his peers.
“I’m just very, very happy for him,” Parsell said. “He’s a great coach who has done a lot of good things for girls golf in the state of Michigan, and it’s been a long time coming for him. I’m very happy for him to get in there and experience the state finals with us and with his team.
“It’s well deserved,” Parsells said, “and it’s overdue. I’m just glad he got in.”