All smiles: Cats, Raiders lead regional marchSeptember 18, 2017
By COLIN LIKAS
JASPER — No matter which direction you looked early Saturday evening at Buffalo Trace Golf Course, smiles were the rule.
They were visible among the Jasper contingent, which captured the team sectional title for the sixth time in the last eight seasons behind Maddie Wagner’s repeat medalist performance.
You could see them in the Southridge camp, as the Raiders advanced out of the sectional for the first time in seven years by securing the third and final regional berth.
And there was also Vicki Nelson and her Heritage Hills teammates and supporters, celebrating the senior’s second-place individual showing and regional bid.
But only one person was smiling and soaking wet after being doused with the remnants of a large water cooler — Wildcat coach Jan Tellstrom.
“That’s a first for me,” Tellstrom said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Jasper’s golfers surprised their first-year coach after a long, warm, mid-September day. It was an honor, of sorts, for his assistance in helping the Cats to their second consecutive sectional crown.
But Tellstrom gave all the credit for Saturday’s result to his players.
“There’s a perseverance they have that’s pretty impressive to watch,” he said. “You can see it on their faces. They actually probably do better in adverse conditions than they do when (there aren’t any).”
That was best evidenced in the play of Wagner, whose 78 led runners-up Nelson and Baileigh Schneider of Southridge by nine strokes. It was also a two-stroke improvement over Wagner’s sectional-winning score from a season ago.
Wagner’s latest success came amid surprising heat less than a week before the official start of fall, as well as sluggish play ahead of her on Buffalo Trace’s back nine. Much of that seemed to center around the par-4 13th hole, a dogleg over a pond that had players frequently losing balls.
Even the spectators couldn’t escape No. 13’s wrath. One Jasper fan sitting along the cart path was nearly struck by a tee shot from the final group. But the Wildcats and their backers went home happy after outlasting second-place Gibson Southern by 18 strokes. Haley Schroeder’s 91, Gillian Blessinger’s 96, Hannah Welp’s 100 and Brynn Leinenbach’s 105 supported Wagner’s total
The Wildcats now look to improve on a seventh-place finish last season at the Washington regional, scheduled for Saturday at Country Oaks Golf Club, and advance to their first state finals since 2013.
Southridge, meanwhile, got where it wanted to be Saturday after finishing fifth at the sectional last season and ninth two years ago. Senior Olivia Mundy progressed to the regional individually each of the last two seasons, and her 90 this year would have given her a three-peat.
Instead, the scores of Mundy and Schneider (87), paired with matching 107s from Morgan Stapleton and Macie Marley, pushed the Raiders to their first team regional berth since 2010.
“Advancing feels really good, but it felt even better to advance as a team,” Mundy said. “Each one of those girls works so hard, and it’s nice to see that their hard work paid off.”
The efforts of Mundy and her teammates were the result of dedication toward a singular mission earlier in the season, according to coach Tom Collins.
“The goal when we set out at the beginning of the year was, we want to qualify for regional as a team,” Collins said. “South Spencer was our main competition today, and our goal today was to come out and hopefully shoot better than them. They did what they set out to do.”
The Raiders staved off the Rebels by 24 points for the final team spot in regional. Heritage Hills (544) was eighth in the 10-team field and Forest Park (561) took ninth behind Audrey Jones’ 121 and Makayla McKim’s 127.
Collins said his team won’t change the way it prepares for this weekend’s regional, adding he wants the Raiders to have fun with the experience.
That’s more or less the mentality for the Nelson as well heading into her final sectional, her third after regional scores of 104 as a junior and 107 as a sophomore moved her ahead. Despite Nelson and Schneider carding the same score Saturday, however, they weren’t quite evenly compensated for their efforts.
In a moment of levity, there was a coin flip to decide who would get the second-place red ribbon and who would receive the third-place white ribbon, since there was only one of each color to go around. Schneider called tails. The result?
“I got third,” Nelson said with a laugh. “That’s OK.”
It wasn’t hard for Nelson to move past losing the flip, as she overcame some early nerves and trouble on the par-4 fifth hole to keep her season alive. Nelson has fired her team’s top score in every meet this season, though there’s been plenty of give-and-take among her and her younger counterparts as three sophomores filled the Pats’ sectional lineup.
“I just try to encourage them to do their best every time,” said Nelson, surrounded by teammates shortly after receiving her ribbon. “I love them, and I’m going to miss them dearly.”
So how does Nelson approach her final shot at qualifying for the state finals? The same way she headed into Saturday’s contest.
“I’m just going to try to go out and shoot my best and see what I’m capable of doing,” she said.
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