Prep girls golf: Near miss in 2016 pushes East to first state berth

The Lakota East High School girls golf team poses with its Division I district runner-up trophy last week at Beavercreek Golf Club. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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The Lakota East High School girls golf team poses with its Division I district runner-up trophy last week at Beavercreek Golf Club. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Lakota East High School girls golf team played most of the 2017 season with two numbers in mind — one and 320.

One was fuel, the other a goal.

»RELATED: East boys headed to state for first time since 2008

The first served the Thunderhawks well, and while they didn’t reach the second, it turned out to not matter.

East missed qualifying for Ohio’s 2016 Division I state tournament by one stroke, finishing fourth behind Centerville, Ursuline and McAuley. Falling short by the slimmest of margins wasn’t easy to forget — not that any of the girls wanted to, senior Liz Springer said.

“I would say, basically, that drove our whole season,” Springer said. “We were so close. This year, our whole mind-set was to get to state or go home.”

“It was something that fueled us the whole season,” coach Gene Powell said. “We had two goals — win the (Greater Miami Conference) and get to state.”

Missions accomplished. Fortified by the addition of junior Bree Wilson, a transfer from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, East made program history by winning the GMC and qualifying for the state tournament — both for the first time.

The Thunderhawks will make their first-ever trip up Interstate 71 on Thursday to play in the two-day, 36-hole state tournament at Ohio State University’s Gray Course on Friday and Saturday.

Wilson shot a 41-38—79 on Oct. 10 at Beavercreek Golf Club to lead East to a 345 district team score, second to Centerville’s 324 and one stroke better than Ursuline’s 346. Three teams qualify from the Southwest District for the state meet.

“Once the GMCs were over, our focus was on making it to state,” Powell said.

The second-year coach and the Thunderhawks didn’t shy away this season from talking about last season’s near miss.

“We discussed regularly where we were,” Powell said. “I wouldn’t say we had a motto, but we definitely talked about one stroke quite a bit. It’s remarkable when you play a tournament and have over 300 strokes as a team, and it comes down to one stroke.”

Springer and classmate Natalie Hamilton tried to make sure the talk didn’t descend into wallowing about bad luck.

“We just always tried to stay positive,” Springer said. “There was no one specific thing. We just tried to have a positive mental attitude and hype the other girls up. We didn’t want to let them get down if they hit a bad shot or had a bad day. We tried to play one shot at a time. That’s what the coaches kept saying — focus on the game, not on the big picture.”

Powell actually strayed from that approach with Springer at the district meet on a waterlogged course that was playing long.

“My coach told me on the 15th hole that we were in third place,” she recalled. “I wasn’t having a great day, but that helped fuel me and I parred the next four holes.”

Springer finished with a 41-44—85, second to Wilson and a performance considered crucial by Powell.

“I think we had a couple of major contributors,” he said. “Our strength is being steady. We don’t have wild swing fluctuations in our rounds, though you’re going to have some because it’s golf. Overall, we’ve been pretty steady all year, but Springer’s 85 was a really big boost for the team. It wasn’t her best round, but in those conditions, it was an excellent round. Those two were certainly very important.”

Wilson also led East to a second-place finish behind Mason in the Walden Ponds Golf Club sectional tournament on Oct. 2. Sophomore Grace Honigford was a stroke behind Wilson at 43-39—82, while Springer shot a 42-41—83 and Hamilton finished at 45-42—87. Sophomore Camryn Eddy rounds out the Lakota East lineup.

The second number — 320 — was what Powell and his coaches figured the Thunderhawks would need to shoot to finish among three teams qualifying for state, but the conditions made that unattainable. Still, they reached their primary goal and were planning to have fun with it. Powell sensed a rollicking ride to state.

“It sounds like I have been overruled on most of the travel plans — the meals and music, for sure,” he said good-naturedly. “I get to drive the van, but they’re controlling the playlist.”

Springer expects the playlist will lean heavily on what she described as “throwback music — stuff from the early 2000s.” Most of it no doubt will be upbeat, mirroring the Thunderhawks’ celebratory mood.

“It’s just amazing,” Springer said. “We wanted all of this, but a dream coming true in your senior year is something you can’t imagine. It feels good knowing how far we’ve come, from shooting in the high 90s as freshmen to qualifying for state.”

State schedules

What: Lakota East at Division I boys and girls state golf tournaments

Where: Ohio State University's Scarlet Course (boys) and Gray Course (girls), 3605 Tremont Road, Columbus

When: Friday and Saturday

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