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Golf’s big stage: Northern Michigan University’s Maya Hunter, Negaunee graduate Rachel Niskanen reach medal play at Michigan Women’s Amateur

Recent Northern Michigan University graduate Maya Hunter, left, and 2019 champion Elayna Bowser claimed co-medalist honors after two rounds of stroke play at the 108th Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship golf tournament held in Southfield last week. (Photo courtesy NMU)

SOUTHFIELD — Recent Northern Michigan University graduate and women’s golf team star Maya Hunter shared the lowest-scoring honors in qualifying and advanced to the quarterfinals in medal play at the 108th Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship that wrapped up Friday at Plum Hollow Country Club in the Detroit suburb of Southfield.

And 2023 Negaunee High School graduate Rachel Niskanen, who was a freshman golfer last season at Central Michigan, also qualified for medal play and reached the match play second round.

Hunter, a 21-year-old from downstate St. Joseph, struggled to an opening 7-over-par 77 on June 10 to start stroke play, then rebounded for the best round — and only round under par — a 2-under 68 last Tuesday, to finish at 145 in the qualifying.

That matched the 145 posted by Elayna Bowser of Dearborn, who shot 75 and 70. Bowser, 27, is a real estate agent and 2019 champion of this tournament.

“I wasn’t trying to do anything special, just hit the shots,” Hunter said on the website of the Golf Association of Michigan, the sponsor of the tournament. “I was a little nervous coming into (Tuesday) morning because I didn’t play as well as I wanted to (on June 10), but I was telling myself I’m grateful to be out here, and it’s a great day to play golf.”

Hunter, who graduated in May from NMU despite having just completed her junior year of athletic eligibility, told the GAM that her goal was to make the match play cut after she missed a year ago.

She added that she plans to attend graduate school and hopes to use her final year of golf eligibility wherever she lands.

Hunter was a two-time All-GLIAC selection while at NMU and this spring qualified for the NCAA Division II East Regional, just missing advancing to the national finals.

“I haven’t played match play in a while, but I love it,” she said before that part of the Michigan Women’s Amateur took place. “I think my plan is to just play within myself with no real expectations and take it as it comes.”

The 32 lowest scorers advanced to medal play that began Wednesday. Among the group was Niskanen, who posted rounds of 78 and 75 for a 13-over 153, good for a tie for 20th. It took 161 — and a playoff — to make the top 32.

Niskanen is a 2023 graduate of Negaunee High School who won the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 girls medalist title her junior and senior years, along with being runner-up as a sophomore.

As a freshman at CMU, she ranked third for the Chippewas in scoring average while picking up a pair of top-20 finishes in five fall events.

Both area golfers advanced out of the first round. Hunter defeated No. 31 seed Brooke Morris of Canton 2-up, while Niskanen dispatched No. 10 Nateda Her of Lansing 3-and-2.

In the round of 16 early Thursday, Hunter turned back No. 13 Bridget Boczar of Canton 3-and-2, while Niskanen fell to No. 5 Amaya Melendez of Ann Arbor 6-and-4. Boczar is the reigning GAM Women’s champion and a golfer at Oakland University.

Later Thursday in the quarterfinals, Hunter bowed out, falling to No. 11 Macie Elzinga of Byron Center 5-and-4.

“Maya has shown consistent improvement over the years and this validates how good she can get,” NMU head golf coach Eric Johnson said in an NMU Sports Information news release. “The sky is the limit for her golfing success moving forward.”

Elzinga would lose in Friday’s semifinals to No. 16 seed Shannon Kennedy of Beverly Hills 4-and-3, while No. 9 Elise Fennell of Caledonia edged Melendez 1-up in the other semi. And in the championship match later Friday, Kennedy prevailed over Fennell 2-up.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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