ROMEO — One of the Blue Water Area’s high school sports dynasties consists of just 10 players.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a group that’s more compatible — and more consistent — than the Almont girls golf team.
“Success keeps breeding success,” Almont coach Mark Bone said. “My thought process is different than a lot of coaches. I don’t cut anybody. You just have to be an asset to the team — show up with a smile, be a good teammate, motivate others and you’re an asset. Basically, the program is just let the (players) be happy, let the success sell the sport and then just keep working.”
The Raiders have worked their way to the MHSAA state finals for the second straight year and the seventh time in the past eight seasons. That’s on top of the team’s eighth consecutive BWAC championship.
“It’s just a lot of practice,” sophomore Olivia Kotelnicki said. “We’re (at the course) every day and we’re dedicated to our sport. It’s not only rewarding to see growth in actual tournaments and matches, but when you’re out here with your friends, it’s rewarding to have competitions and push yourself. It really helps get the juices flowing.”
“We’ve had a lot of newcomers who are just giving (golf) a shot,” said junior Jesse Kautz, who was named BWAC MVP on Sept. 29. “Because they want to try something new. They know they can come out here and no matter what — good or bad — they’re going to have a good time.”
It’s the type of environment that fosters bones. Whether a player is experienced or new to the game, he wants them to enjoy themselves more than anything.
“In golf, you never know when someone is going to bloom,” Bone said. “It might take them two or three years. Most of your players, you’re blessed if you can get somebody that’s played before. But you get a lot of players that are just starting. So that’s the cool part — seeing people start, learn the game and just develop into a real player.”
A few years ago, a girl came out for the team who wanted to play golf and volleyball simultaneously. Bone encouraged her to try both, as he does with all of his players who participate in multiple activities. One year later, she decided to stick with golf full time and eventually went on to play in college.
“Stuff like that is cool to see,” Bone said. “I think you want the full experience (of high school). I would love to have someone just dedicated to golf. But I also want you to graduate from high school, look back on those four years and say, ‘That was cool. ‘ “
His players share the same approach. They want to win, of course, and have done a lot of it. But the Raiders haven’t lost sight of the big picture.
“We love winning and we love getting titles,” Kotelnicki said. “But the point is to have fun. High school golf isn’t supposed to be anything insanely competitive. This is supposed to help kids get introduced and fall in love with a lifelong sport.”
It’s an attitude that the team will carry into the Division 4 state finals, which begin Friday at Grand Valley State University.
“I’m looking forward to all of us being together,” Kautz said. “Just going into states together open-minded. It’s a scary thing, but you’re staying in a hotel room, having fun and going out to dinner afterwards. That makes it all better. It’s a really fun process.”
“It might not be the current golf,” Kotelnicki said. “Because the golf is stressful. But it’s mostly (about) hanging out with the girls. We get to spend more time with each other than we usually do. It’s just the team-building aspect of it.”
When asked what he’d like to see from his Raiders in the state championship, Bone’s answer was simple.
“Have fun,” Bone said. “We’re ranked 11th and that’s nice. Everyone looks at rankings. But if we walk out of there halfway up the pack, have a great experience and are going to talk about it forever? That’s good.”
Contact Brenden Welper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.