WARSAW – Nikki LaLonde is way too young to probably have even heard of Cyndi Lauper.
That’s not going to keep the Warsaw golfer from following the lyrics of one of Lauper’s most famous songs.
Lauper, an MTV icon in the 1980’s, turned “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” into one of her biggest hits.
LaLonde plans to follow those words come Friday and Saturday as she concludes a stellar senior season at the IHSAA State Finals in Franklin.
“I’m going to have fun,” said LaLonde in a phone interview Monday evening while on the practice range hitting balls at Stonehenge. “This really means a lot to me. It’s something to be excited and proud about.”
LaLonde shot a 76 last Saturday at the East Noble Regional at Noble Hawk in Kendallville to earn the fifth and final qualifying spot for State for individuals from a non-advancing team.
The wait to hear if she had made State or not was agonizing for the laid-back LaLonde.
“It’s so hard to explain how I felt waiting all that time,” explained LaLonde. “I was in complete denial thinking that I had blown it on the final hole (where she took a seven after hitting into the water). I was pacing back and forth and was so nervous. I wanted to go to State so bad.
“When they finally announced my name I was so excited and had the biggest smile on my face. Then on the bus ride home, it hit me how close our whole team was to going to State. I really wanted that to happen.”
The Tigers finished in fourth place at the regional by shooting a season best 341. The top three teams in No. 1 Penn (297), NorthWood (335) and Rochester (338) earned the spots in the State Finals.
The wait also seemed like an eternity Saturday for Chris LaLonde, the Warsaw coach and Nikki’s proud Mom.
“I was a nervous wreck Saturday for everyone on our team,” admitted coach LaLonde. “It was taking forever to find out. It was a long wait. I was beating myself up because I couldn’t be out there to help my players and talk to them.
“The whole team played great at the regional and I wish all of them got to go to State. It’s exciting for Nikki. Her hard work has paid off. She told me after she went as a sophomore that she was going to go back to State.”
The younger LaLonde played at the State Finals in 2011 when the Tigers qualified as a team. She shot a round of 94 that day on the par 72 layout at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin as Warsaw did not make the cut as a team.
LaLonde said on Saturday that she did not care what she shot at State.
Since then, she has reconsidered.
“I do care how I play at State,” said LaLonde. “I want to play golf in college and there are going to be a lot of college coaches there this weekend.”
LaLonde also says that it’s been good to have her mother there as her coach.
“It’s been good that she is there to push me when I need it and to reassure me,” said Nikki. “She gave me the freedom this season to play and still coached me when I needed it. It’s worked. My scores have been better.”
Coach LaLonde says she has altered her approach to handling her daughter on the course.
“Nikki is sort of laid back and likes to have fun, but she can be intense when it’s important,” said Chris. “Morgan (former Warsaw player Morgan Sands) told me to remember not to pressure Nikki. She’s been around the game since she was probably six months old or even younger than that. I always want her to enjoy the game. I’m not as intense with her now and I think that has helped her.”
LaLonde will tee-off at 9:06 a.m. Friday at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin for her first of two rounds. She will be paired with Kaylee Birtch of Yorktown, Lindsay Mitchell of Rochester and Allie Onest of Lake Central. The final round will be played Saturday.
The State Finals field includes No. 1 Penn, which finished fourth in 2012. The Kingsmen, who are led by Notre Dame bound senior star Kari Bellville (who was medalist at the East Noble Regional with a 71) were state runner-up in 2011. The Penn girls’ program has won four state championships, the last coming in 2005.
NorthWood makes its first-ever appearance at State Friday. Coach Adam Yoder’s team, which won the regular-season and overall NLC championships this fall, are led by senior standout Heidi Morganthaler. The Panther lineup also features senior Kayla Stankovich, junior Rachel Beebe, sophomore Linzie Richner and freshman Summer Stillson. NorthWood begins play at 9:51 Friday morning and it paired with Chesterton, Floyd Central and Madison.
Coach LaLonde feels her ace, who will play a practice round at The Legends on Thursday, will play well in her final prep event.
“I just want her to go out there and play her best,” said coach LaLonde. “She just needs to play the course. I think that she will play well.”
And hopefully have her fun along the way too.