Devoted Wildcats stay up to par

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
MeKenzie Hilsmeyer’s last few summers have been crammed with nonstop golf — lessons, practice rounds, tournaments. All the work is necessary to keep up with the improving landscape of girls golf. The Wildcats have put in the time with the results to prove it, as they’ll play in the state finals for the third straight season starting Friday at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club in Franklin. The eighth-ranked Cats will play in a power-packed grouped with No. 1 Yorktown, No. 4 Penn and No. 5 Carmel.

 

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

Two years ago, MeKenzie Hilsmeyer pocketed a 76 at Country Oaks Golf Course in Montgomery.

It was a respectable, albeit frustrating, score for Hilsmeyer, who spent about 40 of those strokes putting the ball.

That was Year One of the latest epoch in the senior’s golf career, when she began taking biweekly lessons apart from team practices and competing in summer golf events.

This past summer, Hilsmeyer challenged herself with a more rigorous schedule than ever, swelling her individual tournament participation from three to four events to 11, culminating with an August trip to the three-day Optimist International Junior Golf Championships at PGA National in West Palm Beach, Fla.

As the progressively intensive regiment has carried on, Hilsmeyer has developed into Jasper’s leader while epitomizing what Wildcat coach Steve Milligan feels is the most noticeable change in high school golf in recent years: To compete on the upper echelon, simply playing a three-month high school season no longer suffices.

“You’d look at some kids’ clubs and go, ‘Well, did you even touch the clubs before the season starts?’” said Milligan, weighing the nonstop routines of players like Hilsmeyer against the former status quo. “I don’t want to say it that way, but some kids didn’t even dust them off.

“If they want to get better, they now do it on their own.”

For Hilsmeyer, that entails the private sessions — each lasting about two hours — every two weeks with French Lick Resort professional Adam Marshall. In addition, she partakes in a couple summer tours — she won twice on the Pepsi Max Masters Tour last summer — and plays rounds with Dru Hein and Michael Bies of the Wildcat boys team.

There’s no denying the hours can become exhausting, Hilsmeyer said. Yet overriding the fatigue are two things that carry far more weight: results and simple enjoyment.

“One week this summer, I woke up between 4 and 6 (a.m.), Monday through Thursday,” Hilsmeyer recalled. “I’m driving and thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But then I get on the course and I’m like, ‘I love this.’ I often don’t appreciate it until I’ve got my hands on a club and I’m hitting a ball. Then I’m like, why was I ever complaining? This is what I do.

“The past two summers, we’ve kicked it into gear, really. But it’s paying off now, and that’s why we do it.”

Ironically, Hilsmeyer points to an 83 she posted at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club this season as evidence to her constantly ebbing scores. Whereas last season the score would have been easy to swallow, she found herself “just flipping out” after signing her card at the Center Grove Trojan Classic on Aug. 6.

Her experimentation with the intricacies of the ever-evolving, unmasterable game reveals her maturation as a golfer. Her lessons have “completely evolved (her) game” to the point where she’s transitioned from having a standard swing for most shots to evaluating each lie as a separate case study, eventually enacting the one best suited for the situation.

In a three-hour practice session Tuesday, Hilsmeyer worked on three different chip shots from the same distance, each variety allowing for different results.

And likewise, playing with Jasper’s “muchachos,” as she refers to them, has been similarly beneficial. Hein and Bies not only helped her develop comfort with trouble shots — Hein spent an entire day helping her with fairway bunker shots — but they assist from a psychological standpoint, as well.

“The guys I play with, they can hit that amazing shot, and they’re like, ‘MeKenzie, you can do that,’” said Hilsmeyer, who admits to being down on herself on occasion. “I’m like, ‘No I can’t.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, you can. Just believe in yourself.’ So they push me in that way, too.”

Starting Friday, Hilsmeyer and her Wildcat teammates will tee off at the state finals for the third consecutive season and the 15th time in school history.

Their performance has been a testament to the group’s consistency and depth, but also illustrates the progression of the high school girls game.

Put in perspective — though somewhat incomparable given the two teams played on different courses — the Wildcats’ regional-winning score of 326 last weekend was 30 strokes better than the cumulative score posted by Jasper’s third-ranked 1992 squad the weekend before its final round at state, where the Cats finished fourth. That team’s average score was an 89, one stroke higher than Janelle Gore’s 88 from last Saturday’s regional, the highest of all five Wildcats.

“You look at our team, and we have really good players backed up by even more good players,” said Annie Getzin, who fired a team-best 77 on Saturday in Evansville. “We’re so lucky to have this strong of a base.”

Whereas players’ expectations were somewhat ambiguous entering last year’s state finals, it’s undeniable that this year has a different feel, said Milligan and several of his players.

The players believe.

“We have a chance, we definitely have a chance,” Getzin said in a calculated tone.

For Milligan, continuing to unwaveringly do what they’ve been doing — maintaining a laid-back demeanor while executing under pressure — is not only a priority, but the key to Jasper’s success.

“This is the best chance I’ve ever had to take a group up there to win the state championship,” Milligan said. “We go up and play our game, that’s the message I’ll give them. Go have fun and play your game. If you play your game, we’ll be in great shape come Saturday morning, going into that last round, to try and win a state championship. And if that happens, we will bring that big trophy back to Jasper.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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