KENDALLVILLE — Facing a full day’s work at the East Noble Regional, NorthWood freshman Cybil Stillson was prepared to celebrate her 15th birthday another day. Then the round became the celebration.
Stillson gifted herself a 1-over-par 72 to tie for second low-medalist honors, and the NorthWood girls golf team shattered its previous program-low with a 309 team score on the way to a runner-up finish and a state berth Saturday.
“A 15-year-old girl today, and the poise she showed out there was just tremendous,” said NorthWood coach Adam Yoder of Stillson. “She didn’t play as well as she wanted to on the front. Didn’t let it bother her.
“To be second in this regional with some of those individuals that are going to be playing in the state finals next week is a great accomplishment. We’re so proud of her.”
IHSGCA No. 3-ranked Homestead took the team championship with a 299, followed by 12th-rated NorthWood’s program-record round, and South Bend St. Joseph’s 328 earned the Indians the last of three berths to next week’s state finals in Carmel. While the Lady Panthers set a new program record, Stillson’s 72 represented a new NorthWood record at the regional level of play. She carded four birdies during the round — on 2, 8, 17 and 18— and shaved four strokes off her front side score on a more challenging back side at Noble Hawk on the way to the impressive finish.
A happy birthday indeed.
“When I was starting my round, I was like ‘OK, it doesn’t really feel like my birthday’ because you’re nervous and you’re focused on playing a good round. So it was like this birthday I’ll celebrate tomorrow,” explained Stillson. “But then as the round went on I was like ‘Oh, this is a great birthday.’”
Stillson’s may have been the Lady Panthers’ low for the day, but NorthWood’s entire top five played lights out to make their program’s third state finals appointment.
MacKenzie Weaver fired a 79 to earn her third trip to the state championships after collecting individual berths in 2015 and 2017, the most of any golfer in NorthWood history. Fellow Panthers senior Abby Slabaugh shot 86 after earning sectional runner-up honors last weekend, NorthWood number five Kirsten Schrock put up a strong 82, and Delaney Davis posted a career-low 76 playing in the fourth spot in the lineup.
Like Stillson, Davis wasn’t at her best at the start of the round but quickly collected herself on the way to a personal best on the biggest stage of her career.
“I didn’t lose my head, which is normally what happens. I shoot a double bogey, and then I’m like ‘It’s over.’ This time I went par, birdie, birdie, so I did better than that,” explained Davis.
“She’s a special young lady. Very smart and has a quiet competitiveness about her,” said Yoder of Davis. “The improvement she’s shown from last year to this year — she didn’t play in the regional last year and neither did Kirsten Schrock — and they were both on the team. They have both just committed themselves to becoming really, really solid players, and, boy, those two were clutch today.”
Meanwhile Saturday, Wawasee closed out a strong season with a 371 for 14th place. Leading the Lady Warriors was Belle Brunner with a solid 80 score. That round was close to earning Brunner one of five individual state finals berths reserved for golfers from non-advancing teams, but the last of those appointments was picked up by Oak Hill’s Hope Mygrant following her 78 score at Noble Hawk.
Jadison Rostochak carded 94, Tate Cowan shot 96, and Taylor Cripe and Lesley Tayagua both turned in 101s. Senior Tayagua won’t be back next season, but the rest of the Warriors’ top seven could all return, and the future looks bright for Wawasee girls golf.
“We’re hoping we can go want it for next year and try to take the next step. We obviously hoped to get out today, but we just aren’t quite deep enough yet to do that,” said head coach Steve Coverstone.
Manchester put up a 365 for 10th place, led by Kelsey Eichenauer’s 79, one heart-breaking stroke shy of a ticket to the state finals. Madyson Ulrey shot 92, Samantha Kissel carded 95, and Cora Barnett’s 99 completed the team score. Alissa Bickerstaff posted a 102 for the Lady Squires.
Competing individually at Saturday’s regional after advancing out of the Warsaw Sectional were Warsaw’s Grayson Kilburn and Lakeland Christian Academy’s Abigail Fishel. Kilburn put up an 84, and Fishel shot 90.
Alongside Mygrant, Penn’s Lyvia Li shot 72, Northridge’s Braedyn O’Dell and Madeleine Pape of Bishop Luers both shot 73, and Penn’s Grace Szklarek carded 77 as the five individuals advancing to state.
The state finals will take place over two days next Friday and Saturday at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel with both rounds slated for 8:30 a.m. ET. The Panthers are aiming for a top 10 finish in the program’s third trip to the big tournament.
“When we went to state our first year in 2013, that was let’s go have fun. We’re probably going to finish last. It was an upset for us to get there, but we’re going to have a blast,” recalled Yoder. “In 2015, we felt like we should’ve been 13th and not 15th, and that was kind of disappointing. We didn’t put our best foot forward down there. This year these kids already know our goal is to finish somewhere between 10th and 12th. I think that would be realistic. We play out of our minds like today, then you’re talking top 10. If we don’t play well, then you’re talking 13th, 14th, 15th. But the expectations in the program continue to grow.”