By Adam Yoder
KENDALLVILLE – There’s state qualifying good and then there’s state champion good. The defending IHSAA State Champion Homestead squad showed they are still the latter on Saturday at the East Noble Girls Golf Regional in a big way. The Spartans, coached by Jeffrey Jehl, showed their title defense is alive and well by firing a five-under par 275 team total at the Noble Hawk Golf Links.
Juniors Madison Dabagia and Simone Senk tied for co-medalist honors with matching 66’s on the par-70 layout.
As for state qualifying good, this year’s Northern Lakes Conference powers NorthWood (334) and Concord (345) proved good enough to take the remaining two team spots.
The Panthers will make their third consecutive appearance (and fifth in the last eight years) at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel next weekend. The Minutemen will be making their first trip in school history.
On another history making day for the Panthers at Noble Hawk, Coach Adam Yoder said, “I am just so proud of this team. Every year is different, and every team is different. This team had to overcome a lot. From losing four state finalists to COVID to injuries to transfers. We took that all in stride, put our heads down and just got better all year. We took a stand today and played so well over the second nine, especially. I am super happy for our senior, Abbie Richner, as well.”
The Panthers got their normal, excellent play from the combination Cybil Stillson and Breanna Goss, who carded 75 and 79, respectively.
Starting on the back nine, Stillson was level par before disaster struck at the par-five 18th where Stillson went out of bounds and into the water en route to a triple bogey. Her turn to the front wasn’t any kinder, either, as she double bogeyed number one.
However, an even par finish over the final eight holes showed the mettle that has made the Panther ace such a special player.
On her round, Stillson commented, “I just made one really bad swing into the wind on 18, and I didn’t rebound from it well. I am so excited to be going back to state with my team. It’s so much fun to have the whole team down there. I need to tighten a few things up this week, but I’m really confident right now.”
Goss carded birdies at the par four 12th and par five 4th to steady her round and finish in the 70’s for the first time in the regional.
Both Stillson and Goss will match the program record of former Panther star MacKenzie Weaver with their third state finals appearance on Friday. Weaver competed on the big stage in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
The star of the day for NorthWood, though, was its lone senior, Richner, who carded an 82. Richner played her opening nine at 44 and fired a 38 on what could have been her final nine holes as a Panther.
As the last of the fabled Richner sisters at NorthWood, she wanted to play in the state finals like her sisters Linnzie, Bailie, and Madison all had in their careers. She made sure she got that chance on Saturday.
“I am so excited. Everything was solid today. I kept it in play and just had everything going,” Richner commented.
As for next week, Richner probably summed it best for the whole program, “I’m going to be super nervous on the first tee with everyone around, but I’m going to be fine after that.”
Sophomore Riley Kitson fought a rough finish to end with a 98 and sophomore Kira Schrock carded a 112 in the fifth spot. Schrock will split time with junior Bella Sechrist next week at the state finals with each girl playing one day each.
Warsaw finished 14th in the 18-team field with a 396. Sydney Lancaster shot a 95 to lead the scoring for the Tigers. Delaney Byron and Olivia Robinson-Gay finished with 99’s. Marie Frazzetta and Brooklyn Fitzgerald each shot 103 rounded out the scoring for the only other NLC team in the field.
First-year coach David James said the season was an overall success for the Tigers, stating, “I couldn’t be prouder of how all of the girls did this season. We came into this very abnormal-feeling season having to relearn, and along the way discover our strengths and weaknesses. The Lady Tigers have been continually pushing to develop and improve their games to the point where our early triumphs became benchmarks that they were determined to push beyond.”
Departing seniors, Lancaster and Fitzgerald, were at the front of coach James’ mind. He continued, “I would like to really highlight my two seniors from today: Sydney Lancaster and Brooklyn Fitzgerald. Sydney Lancaster has been one of our steady and dependable varsity golfers throughout the season, and today she did not disappoint. She came out and shot a 95, leading the team with our lowest score for the round. Brooklyn Fitzgerald, our No. 5 golfer, has been in competition for her spot all season. Today she came out and shot her PR this season coming in with a 103. They definitely proved how dependable and valuable they are for the Warsaw Lady Tigers team and will be greatly missed next season.”
The new kid on the block at East Noble was the Tippecanoe Valley Vikings. Coach Thadd Mellott’s young squad struggled to an 18th place finish with a team score of 408. It was only the second time in school history the team competed in a regional, the last time in 1989.
However, and 89 from Madelyn Weaver on Saturday, a Three Rivers Conference title two weeks ago, and regional berth earned last Saturday had Coach Mellott looking forward to getting better already.
“We are a young team full of sophomores and I’m excited about the future and happy that our team had the opportunity to see and play with some of the best players in the state. Hopefully, we can use this experience to motivate us to continue to work hard in the off season towards new goals.”
The lone other player in the coverage area was Wawasee junior Taylor Cripe. Cripe shot a 94 on the day. Coach Steve Coverstone commented, “She had a good plan for playing the course, but she had a bit of an off day with her ball striking. She has really improved since her freshman year.”
Hope Mygrant of Oak Hill (75), Madison Keil of Lakeland (76), Marissa GeRue of Fort Wayne Carroll (78), Kathryn Klosa (79) of South Bend St. Joseph’s, and Kristianna Lingenfelter of Rochester (80) all earned individual spots in the IHSAA State Finals next weekend by virture of being the top five individuals on non-advancing teams. Lingenfelter defeated Skylar Whitman of Fort Wayne Northrup in a playoff to claim the final spot.
Information on the IHSAA State Girls Golf Finals can be found on their website at: https://www.ihsaa.org/Sports/Girls/Golf/2020-21/State-Tournament#40492550-state-finals.