KENDALLVILLE – First, she thought she blew it. Next, denial. Finally, her mood completely flipped over. It was exactly what Nikki LaLonde wanted to happen.
The senior golfer from Warsaw thought she had blown a chance at state after hitting into the water on her final hole. But, it turns out, the 76 LaLonde finished with at the East Noble Girls Golf Regional was just enough to move on to state as the final individual on the board. The range of emotions was the most unstable part of the Tiger’s day.
“I was definitely freaking out, I was saying ‘you ruined it. It’s over’,” stated LaLonde about finding water on the final hole. After being asked about the relief of the announcement, LaLonde added, “I think my blood pressure dropped and my hands stopped sweating. I was so excited. I am beyond excited, actually.”
As scores poured into the pavilion in the middle of the Noble Hawk Golf Links, LaLonde and her Warsaw teammates had no idea if they had qualified for state. The 341 team score was among the leaders from the early-round scores, and as NorthWood’s 335 and Penn’s absurd 297 were posted, it would come down to what the final groups did.
Warsaw were officially eliminated with Rochester’s 338, bouncing the Tigers from team competition next Friday and Saturday at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. But, would LaLonde survive the individual charts? As she paced the back corner of the room, and as mom/head coach Chris LaLonde poured over scenarios with every press of the permanent marker on the board, it was thin ice and high drama.
The final four teams to post were East Noble, which had no scores in the 70s, followed by Homestead and Dwenger, both in the same boat without a score sub-80. The final school, Marion, is ranked No. 12 in the state, and did have a low number with Kayla Adamson shooting a 72. But its next-lowest tally was an 80.
Glancing at the individual board, Sydney Willis of South Adams and Lauren Tibbits of Oak Hill both shot 74, and Jaycee Bunner of Fort Wayne Blackhawk fired a 75. As the math was done, Nikki needed an official to say she had made it, but reality set in as she was announced as the fifth score. As her ribbon was awarded, she turned around with a smile a mile wide as mom looked on, as proud as ever.
“To be honest, I don’t care how I play next week. I am just excited I am there,” gushed Nikki, who paused, then was OK with that statement. “I can shoot in the 100s. I can shoot in the 70s. The fact that I made it was my original goal. I’m there. I’m fine with whatever happens next week.”
Added a beaming mom, “It’s really exciting after having that heart attack on (the ninth hole). I’m really proud of the girls altogether. I was really nervous today. It was disappointing to be so close as a team, but to have Nikki make it out, that’s really cool, too.”
Warsaw really didn’t have much to be upset about with its overall performance despite just missing out on a team state berth. Shaving 28 strokes off its sectional total, Warsaw looked like it might sneak out with its 341 after some really sharp performances.
LaLonde’s round began with a birdie on 14 and had just one double bogey on the first nine, shooting a 38 and had just the drama of the ninth – her 18th played hole as Warsaw started on the back nine. Sitting just on the edge of the rough facing the lake off her drive on nine, LaLonde went for it and tried to shoot over the water, but left her shot about 10 feet short of shore. Finishing with a seven on the hole, coach LaLonde fretted and paced on the possible meltdown, but the recovery, including a chip onto the green from the bunker that landed one foot away, saved the day.
Elizabeth Meadows finished out her career with a very steady round of 80, not shooting more than double bogey on any of her holes and shooting a 39 at the turn. Meadows had two birdies in her round and shaved nine strokes off her sectional output.
Alexis Manwaring was just as capable, really only falling into trouble on the par-three 11th. Shooting off the elevated tee, the wayward tee shot went awry in building to an eight, otherwise the junior was solid. Madi Graham provided Warsaw with its fourth score at 101. The freshman was about level with a 51 and a 50 to build her total. Kristen Watson opened with a 48 on the first nine, but could not keep pace with a 56 in the second half and settling for a 104.
The experience of having Manwaring, Watson and Graham challenging for a state position bodes well for LaLonde’s club moving forward.
“We shaved off a lot of strokes from last weekend, which is a great thing for me as a coach to see,” coach LaLonde said. “This is a tough golf course, and to see them work through some tough situations is a great thing for the girls. I think it says a lot for Kristen and Madi to hang in there. I think they know they need to step up next year. This is a good scenario for the girls to have for experience. It helps the thought process to play in a regional. That should really help us get ready for next year.”
The day was not just a showcase for Warsaw’s exploits, but also featured three individuals from the Warsaw Sectional in Hannah Jennings of Triton and the Wawasee duo of Elizabeth Jackson and Mikala Mawhorter.
All three teed off in the first three pairings of the morning on the back nine as the fog continued to rise and the dew exposed the tire tracks on the fairways and footprints on the greens.
The early going was not kind to Jackson, who found herself eight over after four holes. Jackson would settle down in her second regional appearance to shoot a 46 on the first nine, then chopping up a 48 on the back to conclude with a 94.
Mawhorter, golfing in her second regional as a sophomore, aimed to best her score from last year and was able to accomplish the ambition by one stroke, shooting an 86. After rolling nine over after her first five holes, Mawhorter would shoot even her next four, and then finish a 42 to conclude her afternoon parring the final layout.
“I think it’s great that both girls were able to make it and play today,” said Wawasee head coach Steve Coverstone of his two individuals. “This is very good experience for both girls, who both will be coming back next year to the team. Both of them hit the ball well. Elizabeth did have some trouble inside 50 yards, but she did some things well, too.
“I think we are set up well for next year not graduating anybody. Hopefully, being another year older helps us, and maybe bring the entire team here next year.”
Jennings experienced similar issues as the two Wawasee competitors, needing to par the final two holes of her front nine to achieve a 50. After parring her first three holes of the back side, Jennings would settle into a 46 and turn in a 96 for her first regional tournament round.
Rochester, the Warsaw Sectional champion, did not skip a beat. Getting a 76 from Kovenant Lingenfelter and 79 from Karsten Lingenfelter, the Zebras added an 89 from Kinley Lingenfelter and 94 from Lindsay Mitchell to post its 338.
NorthWood continued its solid play and run to state with a couple of very low numbers. Heidi Morganthaler continued her torrid play this year, shooting a 75 and Linnzie Richner upped her game with a 76 to pace the Panthers. Summer Stillson posted an 88 and Rachel Beebe added a 96 for the 335 and runner-up position. The appearance at state next week is the first-ever for NorthWood as a team, which set a school-record 18-hole score at Noble Hawk Saturday. NorthWood has only had two individuals play in a state finals, Amy Thompson in 2009, finishing ninth, and Gina Yoder, who won the state title in 1988.
No one was going to catch or compare to the state’s No. 1 team, Penn. The Kingsmen were as advertised, hanging just 19 bogeys or worse as a team and its ace, Kari Bellville, was masterful in shooting a one-over 71. Just a stroke behind was Kathryn Willenbrink at 72. Emily Song was just as relevant with her 74, giving Penn a trio of golfers in the top five of individual marks. Madison Chesnutt (80) and Cassidy Jurkaites (88) rounded out the Penn figures.
Up next for the qualifiers from East Noble is the IHSAA State Finals, to be held Friday and Saturday at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. Golf begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday with the 25 individuals and 15 teams comprising the field for the two-day event. Penn, which last year finished fourth, will look to dethrone Yorktown, the defending state champion.
Complete regional results can be found at the IHSAA link.
East Noble Girls Golf Regional – Noble Hawk Golf Links – par 70
1. Penn – 297
2. NorthWood -335
3. Rochester – 338
4. Warsaw – 341
5. Marion – 346
6. East Noble – 349
7. Homestead – 351
8. Fort Wayne Carroll – 352
9. Fort Wayne Dwenger – 358
10. Bellmont – 362
11. Fort Wayne Canterbury – 365
12. South Bend Adams – 369
13. Elkhart Central – 373
14. Leo – 374
15. Angola – 376
16. Southwood – 378
17. Huntington North – 413
18. West Noble – 419
1. Nikki LaLonde 38-38-76
2. Elizabeth Meadows 41-39-80
3. Alexis Manwaring 40-44-84
4. Kristen Watson 56-48-104
5. Madi Graham 50-51-101
Elizabeth Jackson 48-46-94
Mikala Mawhorter 42-44-86
Hannah Jennings 46-50-96