By Adam Yoder
CARMEL – After losing six state finalists from the past two years to graduation and having a near decade long Northern Lakes Conference win streak snapped on August 25th, the NorthWood girls golf team’s run of success in the area and the state appeared to be waning, if not coming to an end.
Things are not always as they seem, though. It turns out the Panthers just needed some time.
Fast-forward one month later, and here they are again, in the IHSAA State Finals at Prairie View Golf Club this weekend.
On Friday morning, the Panthers will tee off on the front nine at 8:57 with Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern as sophomore Kira Schrock takes her swings to lead off. Schrock will only play on Friday in the state finals, as junior Bella Sechrist will take her place on Saturday morning.
On the reasoning behind that, head coach Adam Yoder commented, “It’s just a matter of giving players the opportunity to experience that atmosphere. It’s certainly something that helps for the future, but it’s also our way of continuing to be an inclusive, family-type program. Both Kira and Bella have logged varsity time this year and both have earned the opportunity to compete.”
The Panthers have only played the same five players once in the state finals and that was in 2015. In 2013 and 2019, they played six players, and in 2018, seven players saw action.
Sophomore Riley Kitson, senior Abbie Richner, and juniors Breanna Goss and Cybil Stillson will round out the lineup in that order in nine-minute increments after the Schrock/Sechrist duo on Friday and Saturday. Saturday’s tee times are determined by Friday’s play.
As for their chances as a team, it’s really an unknown.
“There are about eight teams that are insanely good, and they will show that this weekend, I’m sure,” stated Yoder. “After that, there’s seven teams that really could threatened the top eight if they play well. For us, a third straight top ten team finish would be special.”
The Panthers finished sixth a year ago, 10th in 2018, and 15th in 2013 and 2015.
The top group of teams is led by defending state champion Homestead, who shot a blistering five-under par 275 at the East Noble regional last Saturday. Evansville North, Carmel, Westfield, Center Grove, Hamilton Southeastern, Columbus North and Noblesville all seem to be a cut above the rest of the field based on their bodies of work.
After that, Castle, Culver Academy, Crown Point, Western, Greenfield-Central, Concord and the Panthers will be looking to shock the top powers.
Concord is the lone team in the field making its first state finals appearance, marking the first time two NLC teams have made the state finals in the same year. The Minutemen will play with Crown Point and Columbus North, and their tee times are off of No. 10 beginning at 9:33 a.m. on Friday.
The defending individual state champion, Faith Johnson of Evansville North, is in the field again. The junior will be trying to become the first back-to-back state champion since Kelly Grassel of Chesterton captured titles in 2011 and 2012.
Other top 10 returnees from last year include Homestead’s Madison Dabagia and Simone Senk, Katie Kuc of Carmel, the Panthers’ Stillson, Reese Wilson of Culver Academy and Lauren Kaltenmark of Zionsville.
One would have to give Stillson the best chance of being on the medal stand (top 10) for NorthWood. In addition to last year’s sixth place finish, she finished third earlier this year at the State Preview on this course that featured many of the same teams and individuals she will face this weekend.
A year ago, Goss’s final round 80 vaulted her into 37th place, and her much improved play this year shows she could also be a threat to place very high this weekend. Goss also continued to prove she can play on the big stage by virtue of an 11th place finish with a 79 at the Hall of Fame Invitational at the Trophy Club in Lebanon back in September. That event is typically regarded as the strongest girls’ golf field of the high school season for both teams and individuals.
Concord ace Belle Brunner seems to have the best shot at the medal stand for Concord after being the medalist at the East Noble sectional with a 74 and finishing fifth with a 73 at last week’s regional.
Yoder added, “The one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that this tournament plays from a much longer yardage than your average high school tournament on a very tough golf course. The State Preview (at Prairie View) and Hall of Fame tournaments are really the only two comparable events during the high school season.
“The state finals certainly separates the best players and the best teams, as it should. Prairie View, the IHSAA, the IHSGCA, and the IGA all do such a great job making this a special event for everyone as well.”
Other area individuals competing are Madison Keil of Lakeland (8:30, No. 10), Katie Kloska of South Bend Saint Joseph’s (10:27, No. 10), Kristianna Lingenfelter of Rochester (10:36, No. 10), and Megan Kobelt of John Glenn (10:36, No. 10).