“A four-inch game,” said LaLonde of the key to success for her squad. “It’s all between the ears. It’s 100 percent mental. That’s what I’ve been telling my girls the last three weeks.”
LaLonde’s talented team has been listening well to their coach of late. The Tigers first claimed the Northern Lakes Conference tourney title Sept. 8 at Bent Oak in Elkhart and then won its fourth sectional championship in the last five years last Saturday at Stonehenge.
The Tigers are one of 18 teams slated to take part in the regional at the Cobblestone Golf Course in Kendallville Saturday. The top three teams and top five low individuals not on an advancing team earn a spot in the State Finals Sept. 28-29 at The Legends Golf Course in Franklin.
Warsaw finished third at the regional in 2011 played at Noble Hawk. Homestead won with a 331, followed by Fairfield (346) and Warsaw (348). The Tigers return three players from that team in junior Nikki LaLonde, senior Morgan Sands and sophomore Alexis Manwaring. LaLonde shot a round of 82, Sands 92 and Manwaring 102 in regional play a year ago. Warsaw then failed to make the cut at the State Finals after shooting a 370 in their first round.
“We have girls who have been in these types of situations and can handle the pressure,” said coach LaLonde, whose team was scheduled to play a practice round at Cobblestone Wednesday. “It helps to have three players who played in the regional last year. The key is to play a smart, steady round. We just have to play one shot at a time.
“At this level, it’s all about advancing. Our girls are relaxed and in a good mood. I think winning the sectional helps their confidence a lot. They were excited to do that. Our girls match up with the teams in the regional as long as we stay steady and consistent.
“We’ve played in invitationals this year with several of the teams who will be in the regional Saturday. Our girls know they can compete with them.”
Senior Elizabeth Meadows stepped up at the sectional to pace the Tigers. Meadows captured medalist honors after firing an 85 and then defeating Wawasee freshman Mikala Mawhorter in a playoff. LaLonde shot 88 in the sectional, while Manwaring fired a 91, Sands a 93 and senior Ashley Murrell a 118. Warsaw shot 357 to win its sectional, while Rochester was second (371) and Plymouth third (389).
Wawasee will be well represented at Saturday’s regional by Mikala Mawhorter. The freshman shot 85 at the sectional to tie Meadows, before losing in a playoff for medalist honors. The Warriors tied Plymouth for third with a 389 at the sectional, but the Pilgrims advanced on their fifth player tiebreaker score.
“Mikala played very well at the sectional, especially on the front nine where her 39 was her best score of the year,” said Wawasee coach Steve Coverstone. “She doesn’t put an inordinate amount of pressure on herself. That helps her in big events.
“I think the focus Saturday will be a bit different for her. In team golf, the avoidance of big holes is key, so you must play conservatively. This weekend, she might go for a few more pins, because making it out as an individual takes a fairly good score. She will still play on the conservative side of things, but maybe take a few more chances. This is a great chance for her to get experience at the regional level.”
Mawhorter, who also plays volleyball at Wawasee, played Cobblestone over the weekend. She was also scheduled for a practice round there Tuesday night, according to Coverstone.
The East Noble Regional field includes sectional champions Warsaw (357) from Warsaw, Penn (326) from Penn, Fort Wayne Dwenger (348) from Angola, East Noble (332) from East Noble, Marion (341) from Huntington North and Homestead (346) from Norwell.
The 18-team regional also includes Rochester (371), Plymouth (389), Mishawaka Marian (390), South Bend St. Joseph (396), DeKalb (357), Angola (375), NorthWood (350), Elkhart Central (359), Manchester (402), Wabash (407), Belllmont (383) and Norwell (387).
Regional play is scheduled to begin Saturday at 10 a.m. at Cobblestone.