Three years ago, Saline junior Sam Kellstrom led four freshmen to the SEC Championship and to the state tournament. The varsity team became known as “Kellstrom and the Kids,” and as good as they were, it was hard not to wonder how good those kids would be when they grew up.
The calendar hasn’t flipped to September yet, and already we have an answer. These girls, now seniors, are good. Really good.
They are Catherine Loftus, Molly Pribble, Sydney Page and Stephanie Schick – and they might be the best senior foursome Saline High School has seen since Adam Whitener, David Boland, Josh Ehrman and Michael Bundas graduated having won four state swim and dive championships in four years.
If you listen to Saline golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak, her comments sound a lot like those made by swim and dive coach Todd Brunty.
“This kind of group comes along very infrequently in a coach’s career. There are a lot of coaches who have careers who never get a group of girls like this,” Williams-Hoak said. “And it’s not only their ability, they’re wonderful young ladies. To be with them for four years and watch them grow is very special.”
On day one of the 2017 season, the Lady Hornets served notice. The foursome shot 298 and obliterated the school record by 21 strokes. Last week at Brookside, the Hornets shot 149 to set a nine-hole team record. Catherine Loftus tied the school individual record of 67. Sydney Page shot a hole-in-one. Personal bests are getting set on a weekly basis.
Williams-Hoak said the girls have always had ability. But that’s not what has made them one of the favorites to win a state championship this year.
“Hard work. They work away from our practices. They work all summer. They play, they practice, they get lessons. They’re passionate about the game.” Williams-Hoak said. “They work at it year round. It’s not a chore. They love it.”
The seeds were planted in that freshman year, when the freshmen followed Sam Kellstrom around the SEC golf courses.
“It was a year to get our feet wet. Sam was great to take us under her wing and use her experience to help us,” said Loftus, who has developed into one of the top high school golfers in the state. “She was awesome. She never got super happy and never got down on herself at all. That’s something I admire because it’s something I need to work on.”
Williams-Hoak said Kellstrom was a good role model for the freshman group.
“Samantha was a wonderful young lady and a great golfer. So they learned how to do things the right way and to be successful,” she said.
The other aspect of “Kellstrom and the Kids” that helped this team so much was that all the girls grew up together.
“They work together and grow together and building strong relationships was important. They’re in it for each other – and that’s something that’s becoming more and more rare in team sports these days,” Williams-Hoak said.
It was especially important for Molly Pribble. As a freshman, she came to Saline from Emerson Middle School in Ann Arbor. Pribble remembers her freshman year.
“I was relatively new to golf at that point. Sam was a great senior to look up to. I was the fifth or sixth golfer. Sam was always supportive and she always cheered me on,” Pribble said. “It was nice to have so many girls in that grade because I was also new to the high school. So now I have these great friends all through school.”
The kinship is key to this team.
“We all know we can shoot. We’re all best friends and love each other, so it’s just a great team,” Stephanie Schick said. “We spend a lot of time together away from golf. We go to sushi, go to the movies a lot.”
Sydney Page said these girls have been close for years.
“Outside of golf we’ve always been close. We played SASA [soccer] together. As golfers we help each other because we keep each other calm and relaxed and humble. When one person does good we all feel great. When someone struggles we comfort her and help her through it,” Page said. “Being seniors, we’ve all improved and we’ve all grown up together. A lot of it has been how close we are. It’s nice to play with people we’re close too.”
Loftus said the girls are sisters.
“We’re together every second of the day when we’re not on the golf course. We tell each other everything. We go out to dinner all the time,” Loftus said. “We’re the best of friends and I feel like helps us. We don’t worry about drama. We just go out and play golf like we need to.”
In their freshman year, Saline finished 11th at the state tournament. Loftus and Page golfed both days. Marge Wood and Molly Pribble each golfed one day. And Riley Salowich golfed two days.
The next year, Saline improved to sixth at the state tournament. On day one, Loftus turned heads with an 84 and she finished with 88 on day two. Page and Pribble also golfed both days for the Hornets. Schick and Salowich split time, with Schick golfing the first day and Salowich golfing on day two.
The next fall, with Kellstrom off at college, the team also lost Salowich, who decided not to come out for the team. At that point, Salowich was generally considered one of the “four kids” who golfed with Kellstrom.
Saline got a big boost when Schick’s game took off.
“Stephanie played volleyball and other sports. She decided to focus on golf. She developed great friendships on the team and fell in love with the game of golf,” Williams-Hoak said. “It’s easy to buy into this group if you’re a player or a coach or you’re a fan because they do all the right things. They have fun. They care for each other. And they have great goals and great work ethic.”
Schick, on the bubble as the fifth/sixth golfer as a sophomore, made improvement a high priority – for herself and for the team.
“I took it upon myself. In my sophomore year, it was always a battle between myself and Riley about who would be the fifth golfer. I wanted it so badly,” Schick said. “If I wanted it, I needed to step up to the plate and shoot the scores they needed.”
She did exactly that. In the summer before her junior year, she played in 13 tournaments.
Schick has taken her game to a new level this year. She’s working with a new coach and she’s seen her scores drop again. Last week, she shot 37 at Lake Forest – a new nine-hole best. Her improvement is driven by her desire to play college golf.
“If I want to play in college, I have to keep improving,” she said.
Loftus acknowledged that Schick’s improvement was key to the team’s success.
Stephanie is one of the hardest working people I know. She’s stepped in and done what she needs to do.
The other major development is that Loftus’ game has soared. She’s gone from being the best on the team to one of the best in the state. As a junior, she served notice when she fired a par-round of 72 on day one of the state tournament to tie for first place.
She admits it was an eye-opening experience.
“That was my lowest score ever. To do it in the state finals, the biggest tournament of the school year, I was, ‘Wow. I can do this.’ It’s not just a goal. I’m up there with the best girls,” Loftus said.
She fell back on day two, she said, because she didn’t trust herself enough.
In her first outing of the year in 2017 at Traverse City, she shaved five strokes off her personal best, shooting a 67 – to tie the school record.
Coach Williams-Hoak said Loftus has made improvements in almost every aspect of the game. But key to all of it her fire.
“She’s very competitive and driven. She’s a great competitor,” Williams-Hoak said.
Williams-Hoak said the one thing Loftus needs to do is learn to let go of bad shots. Friday, she displayed some of the resiliency Williams-Hoak wants to see. On a short par-three at Lake Forest, her drive was a few yards short of the green. She muffed her chip. It bounced a few feet on to the fringe.
Loftus was obviously not pleased to waste a shot and muttered a few words to herself. But she composed herself and then sank a beautiful putt from the fringe to save par.
Playing on even-keel is also an important part of Pribble’s game, Williams-Hoak said.
“She’s a good all-around golfer and a great competitor who is so committed to doing well for our team. When she struggles and feels she’s letting the team down, things can snowball. So that’s what we’re working on with Molly,” Williams-Hoak said.
At Traverse City, she had a great first day and a forgettable second day. Williams-Hoak said she’s since been consistent and productive for the Hornets.
Page’s strength is off-the tee. Thursday, she hit a hole in one on a par-four at Brookside. Friday, she hit the green from the tee on a par four.
“She’s improved so much. She had a sway in her swing and a loss of power. Now she hits the ball a ton,” Williams-Hoak said.
Page loves the power game.
“Definitely hitting off the tee,” Page said, describing her strength. “I’ve always been a long driver and it helps me, especially with par fives, because I can reach the green in two and try for an eagle, or sometimes reach the green on a par four.”
She’s hoping to round out the other elements of her game between now and the state tournament.
All four girls know they came into the season with high expectations. All four know this team has done nothing to lower those expectations thus far. Last year, as juniors, the team finished fifth in the state.
“We’ve had a great start. But we have to stay focused on our goals – trying to win states and not getting too cocky,” Page said. “I think we can win a state championship. Hopefully, senior year we go out with a bang.”