Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state final at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East Oct. 15.

Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state final at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East Oct. 15.

Photo provided by John Minnich

Cranbrook Kingswood girls golf ‘has something special,’ takes second at state finals

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 9, 2022


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s girls golf team is building something special behind coach John Minnich.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood finished six strokes behind first-place Macomb Lutheran North, earning second in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state final Oct. 15 at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers East.

After winning the MHSAA Division 3 Girls Golf State Championship last year, Cranbrook Kingswood was set to graduate three of its five starters at the 2021 state finals.

Carrying a junior-heavy squad into the season, Minnich said the team exceeded expectations he set for the year.

“I thought we might be in the rebuilding year,” Minnich said. “As the season went on, I thought we might have something special here and maybe we could repeat.”

Special was an understatement as juniors Sienna Illitch, Mackenzie Behnke, and Anya Samsonov immediately were placed into a leadership role and proved they were a force to be reckoned with.

“They kind of went from a supporting role last year, where you’re looking for a fourth player to get a good score last year. But this year they were thrown into the starting role,” Minnich said.

Illitch and Behnke, who were both starters for the championship-winning team in 2021, performed well at the state finals. Behnke placed ninth overall in a field of over 100 golfers with a two-round score of 160, while Illitch placed 23rd overall with a 171.

Illitch stayed consistent with an 85 and an 86 on days one and two, respectively, and she said her green game kept her in the competition.

“I think my putting really helped me salvage some pars and make a birdie here and there,” Illitch said.

Samsonov tied with Illitch in 23rd, while sophomore Sophia Kouza (37th) and freshman Sydney Behnke (54th) both shot well for Cranbrook.

Minnich said there’s one area of focus for his team next season if they’re to make a run at states.

“We need to get better at minimizing the effect of a bad shot; we need to rebound from our bad shots better,” Minnich said.

Cranbrooks’s young core showed significant promise when they won a share of the Catholic League-Bishop title with Farmington Hills Mercy, and doubled down at the Region 18 Championship at Flint Elks Club Golf Course in Grand Blanc Oct. 3.

Finishing second behind Lutheran North at regionals, Mackenzie Behnke (3rd), Illitch (4th), Kouza (5th) and Samsonov (6th) all placed in the top six. Sydney Behnke placed 13th.

Although it is a young squad, Minnich said his team has one key strength that will only grow next year.

“This biggest strength is that they’re all competitors,” Minnich said. “Every one of my kids on the team likes the competition.”

Cranbrook will return with all of its state finals starters next season with Illitch, Samsonov and Behnke as key senior leaders.

Illitch said she’s looking forward to being a veteran leader next season.

“It is very exciting,” Illitch said. “That’s why, as much as it’s a bummer we got second, I’m also very happy for Lutheran North.”

Cranbrook’s run for the state finals next season will likely include familiar teams such as Grosse Ile and Macomb Lutheran North.

Minnich said he expects his team to return with some added motivation.

“I know these girls coming up a little bit short sometimes fuel the fire,” Minnich said. “I think it’s only going to make them work harder in the offseason, and I think they’ll come in ready to play. It’s going to be a dogfight next year just like it was last year.”