Centerville girls back at state golf for 7th straight year

The Centerville girls golf team with their Division I district runner-up trophy. The Elks are playing in the state tournament for the seventh straight year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
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The Centerville girls golf team with their Division I district runner-up trophy. The Elks are playing in the state tournament for the seventh straight year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Centerville girls golf coach Mike Dalton helps his team see the Ohio State Gray course in black and white.

“It’s usually the greens, getting up and down and not three-putting,” he explains. “Everything is back to front, so you don’t want to be long.”

Dalton is taking his team to the Division I state tournament on the Gray for the seventh straight year Friday and Saturday. He knows the course and shares as much wisdom as he can with his players. Jenna Hayes, the Elks’ No. 2 player, is playing in her fourth state tournament. Morgan Rodgers, the Elks’ No. 1 player, is a junior playing in her third.

The rest of the lineup is new, but junior Leeann Harker was the alternate last year and almost played when Meha Pandya was sick the night before the first round. So she has experience on the course. This year Dalton is taking juniors Abby Haywood and Alana Miller along to walk the course and get to know it a little bit. It’s all part of Dalton’s strategy to have his players, as much as possible, see the course for what it is – a straightforward par-70 layout with few hazards and difficult greens.

One of these years, Dalton’s team might win a state title. It could be this year even though last year’s 1-2 finishers New Albany and Mason are back with strong teams. And Dublin Jerome has joined the mix with Centerville as a fourth title contender.

“If we all play the best golf we can possibly play, it would probably be New Albany, Mason and I don’t know about us and Jerome and who would be third,” Dalton said. “But golf doesn’t work that way, and we’ve got some kids that can go pretty low.”

Rodgers shoots around par almost every time out and is coming off an even-par 72 at Glenview in Cincinnati in the district tournament. The Elks shot 313, uncharacteristically high for them this season, to finish second behind Mason’s 305.

Hayes, Harker and freshman Brigid Nickell have averaged in the 70s. Junior Sanjana Reddy has been a consistent No. 5 in the low to mid-80s on most days. With three new players, the Elks have shot a school-record 288 and been under 300 a record six times. Before this season the Elks had been under 300 only four times in program history.

“We lost three seniors from last year and weirdly we’re about seven or eight strokes better,” Dalton said. “I thought we would be good, but the girls are like why are we better.”

The Elks, however, are fighting against plenty of precedent. New Albany has won three straight titles, which are the only trips they’ve made to state, and shot 294 at their district tournament. Mason is making its 11th trip and fourth straight and was a three-time champion from 2008-10.

The Elks are making their 17th trip and are looking for their second title and first since 1995. Last year at state New Albany shot 586 over 36 holes, Mason shot 627 and Centerville shot 633. But this year the Elks defeated Mason three of the nine times they met in tournaments and were 3-3 against Jerome.

Team success matters most to the Elks, but Rodgers is also a contender for the individual title. The last Elk to win that was Marissa Wenzler in 2017 with a pair of 69s. Dalton emphasizes playing for the team because it’s easier to get to state that way than it is as an individual.

“Because we all kept our scores low enough and we all battled through the day, we go as a group,” Dalton said of his team’s somewhat off day at districts. “I’ve always coached team sports, and I treat the golf team like that – everything we do we do as a team. That way if you’re having a bad day, you fight through.”

Joining the Elks at state are senior Lily Middleton of Wilmington and junior Kenna Jenkins of Greenville. Middleton shot 74 at district and Jenkins shot 75.

Boys: The only area boys representative is Bellbrook junior Andrew Magill. He shot a 72 at Beavercreek Golf Club to win the district tournament.

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