Springboro’s Gilkison, Centerville girls eye state success

Elks headed to Columbus for sixth straight time; Panthers standout looks to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish

Top golf teams like Centerville’s girls compete in elite invitationals throughout the season. But this year the Greater Western Ohio Conference restricted competition to conference teams. Elks coach Mike Dalton wasn’t sure how his team would respond.

He’s not worried now. The Elks won the Division I district tournament last week for the fifth time in six years and will play in their sixth straight state tournament Friday and Saturday on the Ohio State Gray Course.

“The girls handled it great,” Dalton said. “It was really hard for the seniors to give up all those elite tournaments.”

The Elks still found a way to compete with the top teams, sort of. They analyzed tournament scores online and estimated what place they might have finished. And when they played they discussed who they might have beaten and who might have beaten them had it been an invitational.

“It was like simulated fantasy golf,” Dalton said.

Springboro senior Jordan Gilkison is returning to the boys state tournament, which will be played on the Ohio State Scarlet Course. He tied for fifth last year.

“Excited for sure,” he said. “I feel like last year I definitely left some shots out there, so I’m looking to come back and do better, looking to win.”

For Centerville, the invitational feel was back at the district tournament. The Elks played Mason and saw the friends they have made playing in invitationals. The Elks won by six shots with a score of 310 after trailing by six shots at the turn.

The Elks have also become friends with the New Albany players, who have won the past two state titles. They will be paired with them in Friday’s first round. The Friday goal is to be in at least third place and play with New Albany again and possibly Mason on Saturday in the final group.

“New Albany is definitely the team to beat, and our girls know that,” Dalton said. “We will have to shoot the best two rounds in school history to have a shot. That’s just how good they are.”

New Albany’s first state appearance was in 2018 and it won with an impressive score of 592, setting a single-round record of 292. Last year the Eagles broke their record twice with a 289 then a 282, smashing the tournament record by 19 strokes with a 571.

Centerville’s 18-hole record is 287 and it shot a 295 this year. While New Albany returns four players, the Elks have all five back. Meha Pandya is playing in her fourth state tournament, Jenna Hayes in her third and Morgan Rodgers, Amelia Burger and Kate Dickerson in their second.

“They’ve done this together before and they’ve had some adversity with the COVID stuff,” Dalton said.

Gilkison has weathered this season well, too. He won two opening invitationals with 5-under-par 67s. He comes to state on the strength of a 73 and runner-up finish at the district tournament.

Last year’s winner Tyler Groomes of Dublin Jerome returns to try to lead his team to a fourth straight title. Gilkison knows the competition will be strong, but he said he will not change his approach.

“The main things I think are just going and making as many birdies as I can, no 3-putts and no bogeys on par5s,” the Kent State recruit said.

Gilkison will have one other thing on his mind. He is playing for his late friend Matt Dunkle and his family. Dunkle’s unexpected recent death hit Gilkison hard. They got to know each other well this summer working in the cart barn at Heatherwoode Golf Club. Gilkison admired the way Dunkle taught his young daughters to play golf.

“He was so down to earth,” Gilkison said. “Every day it seemed like he was giving back in some way to his kids just anyway he could. He did so much for those little girls.”

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