CARMEL — NorthWood entered the state finals at Prairie View hoping to crack the elite meet’s top 10. So far, so good.
The Lady Panthers carded a 354 at Friday’s opening round in Carmel to finish day one of the two-day meet in 10th place, just three strokes back of ninth-place Bedford North Lawrence and well ahead of 11th-place Hamilton Southeastern’s 365 score. Zionsville and Evansville North — who were rated first and second, respectively, in the IHSGCA’s final rankings — were tied atop the team leaderboard with identical 308s, while third-ranked Homestead sat 10 strokes back in third place. Culver Girls Academy finished the first round in seventh place with a 346.
“What I talked to the girls about when they were done was, first of all, how proud I was that they didn’t look scared. They looked like they belong,” said NorthWood head coach Adam Yoder. “When they had a bad hole they moved on from it and bounced back. When you break the program record for an 18-hole round — we shot 361 at The Legends back in 2013 on the first day, and we shot 354 at Prairie View today, which is a lot harder course — there’s not many negatives I can say.”
The Panthers got off to a strong start in just the program’s third-ever appearance at the state championships with a 174 on the front nine but ran into occasional trouble on the backside at Prairie View to card 180 after the turn. Senior Abby Slabaugh got off to a particularly hot start, going birdie, par, par over the first three holes and even topped the individual leaderboard for a time, although she eventually settled in at 88 alongside fellow senior MacKenzie Weaver Friday.
“For a brief period of time she was leading the state finals at 1 under par so that was kind of fun. We joked around with her on the course about that. A lot of people screen-shotted it after the round. So that was kind of cool, but they played three and you’ve got to play 36,” said Yoder with a laugh.
Freshman Cybil Stillson led NorthWood with an 8-over-par 80 with birdies on holes five, nine and 12, leaving her in an eight-way tie for 20th place on the individual leaderboard after one round. Westfield junior Jocelyn Bruch led the field with a 4-under 68, meanwhile. Junior Delaney Davis gave NorthWood a fourth score of 88, while freshman Breanna Goss’ 90 represented the team’s fifth score for the round.
While Stillson and the Panthers’ two seniors will play a second round at Prairie View Saturday, Yoder will rotate Kristen Schrock in for Davis at the fourth position and sub Makenna Gall for Goss at the fifth spot. That shuffling should help the program next year, and it may well pay dividends in this season’s finale, explained Yoder.
“You can’t simulate playing there without playing there, there’s no question. It’s just a tough course, and the more you’re out there, the more experience you get, the better you’ll be,” he said. “We felt like those two that are our six and seven bring a lot to the table for us. It allows Delaney and Kirsten both to not be so stressed out about the weekend and go out and only have to play one round. That can be a good thing, and we just felt like in the overall big picture it was the best thing for our program and I really feel like it gives us the best chance to be successful tomorrow.”
NorthWood will open Saturday’s round at 9:33 a.m. playing alongside Hamilton Southeastern and Crown Point, which sat six strokes behind Hamilton after Friday’s round.
“The teams behind us are trying to get into the top 10; we’re trying to move up. It’ll be fun,” said Yoder. “It’s nice to have a group there that we know has a chance with their skills to be in the top 10. That’s exciting.”
Meanwhile for CGA Friday, sophomore Reese Wilson fired a 2-over-par 74, leaving her in fourth place after 18 holes and just four strokes behind the overall leader. Fellow sophomore Masaka Hatano carded a 90, junior Lucy Pugh shot 99, and senior Amanda Kurteff turned in a 93. Katie Shin’s 95 was the team’s toss-out. The Eagles resume play at 8:57 a.m.