Talent and DriveMCC Golf Ready for Next Level

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Under sunny skies dotted with a few clouds not far from the Atlantic Ocean, an array of emotions began flooding over Kamryn Johnston on the morning of May 21.

The 24-year-old Mott Community College freshman stepped to the first tee to commence round one of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division 1 Championships at Duran Country Club in Melbourne, FL.

A three-time All-Stater while playing for Davison High School, Johnston was just three tournaments into the resumption of her competitive golf career after a nearly eight-year hiatus. Less than ten months had passed since her mother’s death following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Davison High School grad Kamryn Johnston was a three-time All-Stater, and gave the Mott Women’s Golf program its first national qualifier in only its second year of existence. Photo Courtesy of MCC Athletics

Yet, Johnston had given the Mott women’s program its first national qualifier in only its second year of existence.

With her older sister and brother, father, aunt and grandmother watching from the gallery, Johnston fired a first-round 82, leaving her tied for 48th place in the 84-golfer field.

“It meant a great deal to have all those close family members supporting me on the golf course again like they have since I first started playing at five years old,” Johnston says.

As she returned to her hotel, however, the realization that her biggest supporter was not present, at least physically, began weighing heavily on her mind.

“I got back to my hotel room and just started crying,” Johnston recalls. “I was just really, really wishing my mom was there. People were saying that she was there, which I agreed with for sure; but I wanted to see her face, her smile and feel Mom’s support in person, again.”

She finished with a four-round score of 331, good for 54th place.

“Going in, I was thinking I’d be happy with finishing in the top 30, but after seeing how well the leaders shot in the first round, I felt like maybe I needed to adjust my goals,” Johnston says. “I can always look back and see where I might have been able to shave off a couple of strokes because my putting was not that great. Overall, it was a great experience representing Mott as its first female national qualifier.”

The experience was equally as great for Bears Head Coach Tim Nestor, who has also guided the MCC men’s program since 2019, and Assistants Nick Brown and Kayla Gerhardt.

It was Brown who offered Johnston a full ride scholarship to Mott last fall after witnessing her potential up close whenever she substituted in his men’s league at Swartz Creek Golf Course.

“Nick was adamant we should sign this woman who was shooting under 40 (for nine holes) against the guys whenever she golfed in his Tuesday night men’s league,” Nestor says. “So, the fact that Kamryn became our first national qualifier didn’t surprise any of us. In Florida, her putter let her down a little bit because she’s not used to chipping on that Bermuda Grass down there, and the greens took some getting used to.”

The journey that eventually landed Johnston on the national championship stage began with family golf outings at the former Pierce Park Golf Course on Flint’s east side. A robust but respectful rivalry with sister Karsen, who is less than two years older, began.

Kamryn claimed five-hole and nine-hole Flint Junior Golf Association titles and was runner-up in the 18-hole division. Karsen also won her share of FJGA championships.

They were Davison High School teammates from 2013-15, leading the Cardinals to Division 1 State tournament berths each season, including a fifth-place team finish in 2014. The sisters both made First-team All-State that year as well, while Kamryn tied for seventh in the state individually as a senior.

Karsen began her college golf career right after high school at Division 1 Oakland University.

Kamryn opted to enter the workforce full-time after graduating from Davison in 2017 instead of attending college. She spent the next seven years working various jobs, including a five-year stint at Clio Country Club which helped her continue playing golf.

“We’re super excited about the team we’ll have – it’s a talented group who will push each other.”
Coach Tim Nestor

Johnston also spent roughly two years helping care for her mother before Kasie Johnston died at age 51 in July of 2023. Kasie played volleyball for the Bears in the 1990s, making Kamryn a second-generation Mott athlete.

“I decided college was not for me at the time I graduated, but being a college golfer and earning a degree remained a long-term goal which my mom was also very encouraging about,” Johnston says. “When she passed away, I began seriously considering it, especially after coach Brown offered me a full-ride. After Christmas last year, I decided to go for it.”

Johnston, who acknowledges she probably would still not be playing college golf had Mott not started a women’s program, began practicing indoors with the men’s team and Mott’s other female golfer – Flushing grad Mallory Baibos – in January.

She enjoyed a resounding return to competitive golf with a sixth place showing at the Lourdes Spring Invitational in April, shooting 80 for 18 holes. Baibos shot a 99 and tied for 44th place, her best round of the season.

Johnston advanced to the national tournament with a fifth-place finish at the NCJAA Central District Tournament in Joplin, MO, shooting a two-round score of 178.

“That course was not easy with windy conditions and greens that were rolled to make them really smooth; but my sister and dad were there to see me make history,” Johnston says. “That was really special. One of my goals is to win the district next season.”

Added Nestor: “I expect Kamryn to be shooting in the 70s consistently next season, compared to the low 80s this season. She’ll be putting in the work between now and then.”

From the time Nestor took over the men’s team, he and Mott Athletic Director Al Perry would occasionally discuss the possibility of adding a women’s program, but nothing happened.

Until …

“Al called me around Christmas in 2022 and said ‘we are doing it’,” Nestor recalls. “He told me there was a Mott volleyball player (Genesee High School grad Preslie Riggs) who wanted to play golf at the college level, too – so the Mott women’s golf program was born.”

Former Flushing and Madonna University standout Kayla Gerhardt joined Nestor and Brown on the staff as Associate Women’s Head Coach and began working with Riggs. Brown, another former Flushing star, was the 2021 MCCAA Eastern Conference Player of the Year before becoming Nestor’s assistant.

Powers Catholic grad Kyle Barbour was named MCCAA Eastern Conference Freshman of the Year, along with a spot on the All-Conference team. Photo by Fred McCurdy/MCC Athletics Photographer

Riggs transferred to Division 3 Calvin University in Grand Rapids where she is continuing her college golf career. That left Mott without any women golfers until Baibos committed last fall.

The additions of First-team All-Flint Metro League performer Scarlett Tanner (Flushing) and Second-team Metro League pick Rylie Wakefield (Clio) will double the women’s squad to four players next season, giving the Bears enough golfers to compete as a team.

“Kamryn’s success has really motivated and inspired Mallory, so I expect her scores to be lower next season,” Nestor said. “Scarlett regularly shoots in the low 80s already, so she and Rylie will be great additions. They have already contacted us about getting in extra practice rounds this summer.”

While the MCC women’s program is in its infancy, the school has been fielding a men’s squad for more than 60 years, winning its first conference championship in 1960 when it was known as Flint Junior College. Success continued into the 21st century with Mott boasting seven overall MCCAA championships, 13 Eastern Conference titles and 11 All-Americans between 2000-2019.

However, when Nestor was named coach following the 2019 season, the Bears were down to only two players – Brown and his former Flushing teammate Andrew Nestor, the coach’s son.

While he began with a sparse roster, Nestor’s persistent recruiting efforts soon expanded it and the Bears, led by Brown, won the first of three MCCAA Eastern Conference titles during Nestor’s tenure in 2021. Brown, Andrew Nestor and Ashton Gaulin (Grand Blanc) qualified for the NJCAA National Tournament that season, as well.

(L-R) Happy to be competing in the 2024 NJCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship at the Duran Country Club in Melbourne, FL are Kamryn Johnston, MCC Women’s Head Coach Kayla Gerhardt, Head Coach Tim Nestor, and Mallory Baibos. Photo Courtesy of MCC Athletics

In 2022, Gaulin, Mott’s next MCCAA East Player of the Year and former Goodrich standout Jake Winterlee qualified for the national tournament. Despite only having enough eligibility remaining to play the fall season during the 2023-24 academic year, Winterlee became the Bears’ latest MCCAA East Player of the Year.

“Jake is a very talented golfer and played an important leadership role last fall, setting the bar high for our younger players and motivating them to improve,” Nestor says.

That younger group consisting of all freshmen other than Colin Mulaney (Lapeer) finished sixth in the regional tournament this spring, missing MCC’s first national tourney appearance as a team since 2018 by six strokes.

Tyler Gist (Davison) missed an individual national-tournament berth by a stroke, tying for seventh place. Kyle Barbour (Powers Catholic) tied for 16th.

Barbour was named MCCAA Eastern Conference Freshman of the Year. Barbour, Gist, Mulaney and Cooper Gerhardt (Powers) joined Winterlee on the All-MCCAA East team.

Barbour, Gist, Kade Kozma (Swartz Creek) and Hopkinsville, KY native David Gagnon-Krzywada return next season. They will be joined by First-team All-Metro standout A.J. Liquori (Flushing) along with Grand Blanc’s Dylan and Logan Holbrook and Jack Briggs.

“We’re super excited about the team we’ll have – I know Kyle (Barbour) is fired up to help get this team to the next level,” Nestor states. “Intense internal competition is going to make the program better because we can’t play everybody in tournaments. It’s a talented group who will push each other.”

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