NAPPANEE – Cybil Stillson is one of the best drivers in the state, and she doesn’t even have a license.
The NorthWood sophomore, still 15 in Earth years, has been playing golf in the capacity of those much older than her. A top-20 golfer as a freshman at the state meet, Stillson returns bright-eyed and ready to make sure there is no sophomore slump in her game. It has been discussed.
“My sister is the one who got started in golf, and actually we came out and played here last night,” Cybil said Friday morning at McCormick Creek, noting her sister, Summer – a NorthWood golf program alum – just completed her sophomore golf year at St. Mary’s. “She said to just forget about last season and focus on this season. We’ve practiced a lot and focused on different shots that I’m going to see as the season goes on. I feel so much more prepared heading into this season, and it helps having that freshman year of experience so I know how to deal with some of these invitationals we are going to be playing here the next few days.”
Stillson’s remarkable rookie campaign with NorthWood seemed, ahem, on par with expectations that are now saddled with the perennial success the Lady Panthers have drawn. After earning All-State status in posting a 155, Stillson tied for 13th overall at the IHSAA State Finals while NorthWood ended up 10th, the best placing the team has ever had in its storied existence. Stillson won three invite medalist titles during the regular season, and then topped it with medalist honors at the Northern Lakes Conference Championships.
Not to be outdone, Stillson kept it up this summer, winning an Age Group title and peppering the top 10s in several other tournaments. Things seem to be getting serious for the sophomore, who states studying may be her best weapon in her golf bag.
“This morning, I was two-under on my round after starting with a bogey, but knew I could just make it up on the back nine,” Stillson said, who no-big-deal turned in a back-nine round of 34 at McCormick in a practice round. “I basically live on this course, so I know where I can make up strokes. But I know what holes I can birdie and par, and so holes like 11, I can try for an eagle because I know I can birdie it.
“This comes in where my sister helps me out. She’s played most of the courses we play on, so she can walk me through places where you can get into trouble, or where you can make up strokes. What club to play, where to lay up, where to miss and not get into more trouble and how to get out of a hole without making a bigger mess of it. That’s been where Summer has helped me a lot, and also with (coach Adam Yoder), he’s a great coach and gets us in the best position to golf as well as we can.”
Stillson became the talk of the team a season ago, but was one with two college-bound players in MacKenzie Weaver (St. Mary’s) and Abby Slabaugh (Grace). Losing two college-level players would crush most teams, but Yoder’s squad returns plenty from the shelves, including four seniors who have a ton of experience.
The quartet of Delaney Davis, Makenna Gall, Kylee Gall and Kirsten Schrock all have varsity experience, Davis and Schrock both were All-NLC selections last year as juniors. Davis, Schrock and Makenna Gall all golfed in the state finals, as did sophomore Breanna Goss, who is likely Yoder’s next big thing.
“Our four seniors have been battling for varsity spots ever since they were sophomores, and all four are going to play a role this year,” Yoder said. “We have two really good sophomores in Cybil and Breanna, which gives us a really nice core group, but there are some others who will help us out and can sort of make their own niche as well.”
Also at the ready for Yoder’s lineup cards are junior Abigail Richner, the fourth in a long line of Richner golf sisters. Sophomore Bella Sechrist joins the roster after not golfing as a freshman, Yoder offering Sechrist has a lot of promise but will need time in the early going, and freshmen Riley Kitson and Kira Schrock have the potential to crack the top 10 very early and push for some opportunities later on.
NorthWood’s schedule is brutal as always, but also as always, that’s how Yoder likes it. The Lady Panthers open right away Monday at the Lafayette Harrison Invite and stay in the area for Tuesday’s Lafayette Jeff Invite. The team comes back to McCormick Creek for Thursday’s home invite then splits the squad Saturday, the JV going to East Noble and the varsity going to Carmel for the State Preview, once again littered with top-20 programs.
NorthWood is the defending NLC champion, having won 50 straight team duals and seven straight tourney titles. The team won the 2018 Warsaw Sectional and is seeking its fourth team state berth in the last seven years. Of all the success NorthWood athletics has had in its 50 years of existence, girls golf is the only team to reach the state finals more than once in a single-class format.
“This is a very cerebral team in the sense that our goal is to play tough teams in August to prepare us for September, which will hopefully prepare us for October,” Yoder said. “These girls are getting out and playing on courses like Stonehenge and Noble Hawk. It’s important that they have a plan going in. They have my notes and they have their own notes. And knock on wood, they’ve got an idea of how to stay out of trouble on these courses. We’ve learned our lessons from experiences in the past.”