WARSAW — Without taking anything away from any of the other teams in the field, NorthWood’s only real competition at Saturday’s Warsaw Sectional was, well, itself.
Following last week’s record-setting performance at the Northern Lakes Conference Tournament and with his team the prohibitive favorite at Saturday’s sectional tourney back at Stonehenge, NorthWood head coach Adam Yoder was looking for ways to keep his players motivated. So he asked them to go even lower this week. And they did.
The Lady Panthers bested last week’s NLC-record score by a stroke with a new Warsaw Sectional-record round of 316, while Wawasee claimed runner-up honors with a 357, and the host Tigers earned the last of the three team berths to next weekend’s East Noble Regional with a 372. Whitko finished fifth with a score of 391, Tippecanoe Valley posted a 417 for seventh place, and Triton closed out the season at Stonehenge.
“I think this week especially, they needed some motivation to get out there and shoot another good score. Looking at our record and looking at the scores last week, it was ‘Let’s beat our scores from last week,’” explained Yoder. “And we did by one, so mission accomplished, I guess.”
NorthWood fired a 148 on the front nine at Stonehenge — the Panthers’ best nine-hole score of the year — and was well on pace to repeat as Warsaw Sectional champion. The Panthers found a little trouble on the more challenging back nine but still held it together enough to set the bar for themselves even higher.
In a class of its own Saturday, NorthWood’s top four golfers swept the top four spots in the field. Cybil Stillson carded 77 to become just the third NorthWood player to win both the NLC and sectional tournaments in the same season, Kirsten Schrock and Makenna Gall fired a pair of 79s to tie for second-place honors, and Breanna Goss’ 81 landed her fourth on the leaderboard. Any of the other teams in the Warsaw field would’ve been happy to have NorthWood’s toss-out score, too, as Delaney Davis’ 84 earned her sixth-place overall honors, only Wawasee’s Belle Brunner and her 82 breaking up a clean sweep of the tournament top five.
“I was really proud of our girls, the way they came out and played really well on the front because it’s hard when you’re expected to win,” said Yoder. “Now don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve talked about this before — I’d rather have the better players. But they did a really nice job of handling themselves today.”
“It’s pretty awesome. I don’t think we realize how cool it is just because that’s what we expect,” said Stillson of her team’s performance. “But really thinking about it and looking at it, it’s actually amazing. I don’t think any other team would expect that, so I’m very fortunate to be part of a team that does that well.”
Stillson had to battle a bit to collect her first sectional low medal.
A bogey on the par 4 12th followed a triple bogey on the par 5 11th, and her back-nine woes continued with a bogey-double bogey series on the par 4 14th and 15th holes. But the gritty sophomore went out with a flourish, birdying both the par 3 17th and par 5 18th holes — the latter courtesy of a gutsy tee shot over the water — to back up last weekend’s NLC title after settling for third at sectional last season.
“Cybil had a kind of a rough back nine and birdied two of her last three holes to overtake her teammates. I think she sensed that she was going to have to come in strong after struggling there early in the back nine,” recalled Yoder. “I was happy for Cybil. She’s the best player in this field, so it’s nice to see the best player win.”
“I came into the round today feeling pretty confident, expecting myself to do well. I didn’t get off to a great start and then on the back nine I kind of had a few bad holes but finished with two birdies, which improved my mind about how I did,” explained Stillson. “It’s really special to get the win.”
Like Yoder, Wawasee head coach Steve Coverstone knew if his players could replicate their score from last week’s NLC Tourney, it would place them in good stead to advance out of Saturday’s sectional field. He wasn’t wrong, either, and for good measure, the Warriors went two strokes better in their second time playing at Stonehenge within the span of just over a week.
“This is a pretty good round for us. If we can duplicate this next week or a little better, I’d be really happy,” said Coverstone.
Brunner salvaged an 82 from an up-and-down round to finish in fifth place in the individual standings. Jadison Rostochak fired a 90 playing in the third flight for Wawasee, while Tate Cowan shot 92, and Taylor Cripe carded 93 in a consistent performance by the Warrior top four. Valerie Haessig’s 100 wasn’t far behind.
“Jadison has been invaluable to this team for four years, and I’m glad to see her have a round that she got some recognition for. As far as Belle goes, she had an off day today and still shot 82. She’d make a double bogey, come right back and make a birdie, make a bogey and make a birdie. She’s just a tough competitor,” Coverstone said.
Grouped with NorthWood and Wawasee, Warsaw had to wait awhile to see if its 372 was good enough to get out. With the final scores trickling in, Plymouth was still threatening — an 80 from top golfer Olivia Waymouth would’ve pushed the Pilgrims past the Tigers, and she had hit the turn at 38. But Waymouth finished with an 87, and Warsaw made the regional cut with a bit of breathing room.
“We saw the front nine turn scores, and we were a little nervous going into it. But the girls did an awesome job, especially the last nine holes,” said Tigers coach Tad Nieter. “Grayson (Kilburn) almost made a hole-in-one on 17. Marie (Frazzetta) really finished strong, and then Delaney (Byron) really pulled it together. So hat’s off to those girls for sticking down and into it.”
Frazetta’s 87 was the Tigers’ top score, and Kilburn — whose tee shot on the short No. 17 at Stonehenge rolled mere inches from the cup — posted a 91. Both Byron and Sydney Lancaster carded scores of 97 for Warsaw, while Brooklyn Fitzgerald’s 120 was the team’s fifth score.
“We had an awesome week of practice. This week we’ve got some things in our game plan that we need to focus on, but I’m excited for next week, especially for this young team. It’s good experience,” Nieter said.
While Warsaw, Wawasee and NorthWood earned the three team appointments to next Saturday’s regional at Noble Hawk in Kendallville, Waymouth, Rochester’s Kristianna Lingenfelter and Whitko’s Guinny Garr earned the three individual berths reserved for golfers from non-advancing teams with respective scores of 87, 87 and 89.
Tippecanoe Valley’s Madelyn Weaver finished two strokes out of contention for an individual appointment to East Noble with a 91. Molly Moriarty shot 104, followed closely by Kaydence Mellott’s 106, while Lydia Miller shot 116, and Lily Ault put up a 117 score for the Vikings.
Triton had just one entrant in Saturday’s field, and Madeline Ritchison carded 121 to close out the Trojans’ season.
Placing behind Guinny Garr, Augusta Garr shot 95 for Whitko, while Erin Starkweather turned in a 101, Abby Arter posted 106, and Summer West shot 113.
The East Noble Regional is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. next Saturday. Again, the top three teams earn the right to advance to the state finals at Prairie View on Oct. 4-5. Next weekend’s top five individuals also move on.