By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – On a low-hanging, dreary Monday afternoon, McCormick Creek Golf Course was nearly silent. A sign hung on a road barricade at the entrance stating the course was closed for aeration maintenance. Just Adam Yoder’s Ford Edge was parked in the lot. The grass around the clubhouse was higher than usual, and covered in water droplets after a solid day of rain.
Unlike most of the surroundings was Abbie Richner, wearing a white thermal top and her wide, sparkling grin among her hyper-focused teammates atop the driving range. Richner and her NorthWood teammates were plugging away as usual, preparing for a return to the IHSAA Girls Golf State Finals. But while the drizzle and brisk easterly wind kept most with their heads down, Richner carried her head high as she has become known for.
“I just try to keep it light-hearted, just try to keep it fun,” said Richner with her trademark smile. “If I’m playing with someone and she’s hitting her shots everywhere, I just want to help them keep in a good mental state because I’d want them to do the same for me.”
Richner has all the reasons in the world to be happy golfing one more week. Serving as the team’s only senior, she wants to go out with a bang like all seniors always do. But after breaking her wrist in June, Richner had no idea if a senior season was going to happen, let alone a competitive one.
That was put aside in getting the green light two days before the opening pair of tournaments in Lafayette in early August, and her golf life became more normal again. Yet, Richner was facing a new positional challenge on top of her own physical battles, that of playing as a No. 3 behind two of the area’s finest golfers in Cybil Stillson and Breanna Goss. Richner, who was barely a reserve for much of her NorthWood golfing career, was thrust into the position this season after a slew of graduation losses, but never really seemed to dwell upon it.
“I’ve never been a varsity regular before,” laughed Richner. “I’ve never been a top five, let alone a three. I knew we needed another scorer this season, and I was determined to get back and play well.”
Yoder has been elated to see Richner excel as she has this season. Possibly her finest work came in the state tournament, where her 87 helped NorthWood to a sectional championship. Going one better, Richner posted a fantastic 82 at the East Noble Regional that kept NorthWood clear of danger of a desperate chasing field and back to the IHSAA State Finals for the third straight time and fifth time in the past eight years.
“I think most of us could see that she was going to have a really good tournament series by about Labor Day,” noted Yoder. “It did take her a bit longer to believe it, though. She was doing so many things well in spurts but was struggling to do it consistently over the entire round. She continued to believe in what we were telling her, though, and that’s a credit to her. Her commitment to and execution of our plan at Noble Hawk Saturday made me extremely proud and happy. She deserves it so much.”
Where Abbie has a uniqueness within the program is she becomes the fourth of four Richner sisters to golf at the IHSAA State Finals. Linnzie, Madison and Bailey all represented NorthWood on the final weekend, producing quite a family lineage. Abbie, however, doesn’t try to compare herself to her sisters, especially Linnzie, who has continued to become one of the top golfers at Purdue Fort Wayne University.
“I never had the drive Linnzie did. Maddie and I were kind of equivalent where we enjoyed golfing,” Abbie stated. “Linnzie always had the passion for it, I don’t think I’ll go on and golf in college. She really enjoyed it. I’m more of the, ‘Oh, you want to go golf, let’s do it!’ type of person. But I also remember going into freshman year, I was thinking, man, I gotta uphold the name. It’s been nine consecutive years of Richners here. Just get through senior year, see what you can do. I think I’ve done the family proud.”
Abbie will take her final high school swings this Friday and Saturday at Prairie View Golf Club.