Cats’ title reclamation easy as 1, 2, 3September 19, 2016
By MICHAEL HUGHES
JASPER — After all the rain, Jasper girls golf coach Phil Olinger was about to become a little wetter. He saw his team trying to sneak the bucket of ice water outside, so he made sure by the time Jasper was announced as sectional champion Saturday at Buffalo Trace Golf Course, he was barefoot with his hat off.
The sudden, cold bath was different this time. After losing the crown to Gibson Southern last year, the Wildcats (342) bested the Titans (380) by 38 strokes to grab the program’s 16th sectional title overall. South Spencer (434) grabbed the third and final regional qualifying spot, Southridge (464) finished fifth, Forest Park (493) was sixth and Heritage Hills (495) took seventh.
But Olinger’s ice bath after helping Jasper to its eighth sectional title in the last 10 years might be his last, since he won’t be returning to coach next season.
“Next year I’m going to be a dad,” said Olinger, who’s finishing his third year coaching Jasper. “Unfortunately I won’t be able to do that and be a head coach, but I plan on being around and volunteering to help the girls any way I still can.”
For a last go-round, his team certainly put on a show. On top of the team crown, the Wildcats also claimed the top three individual spots. It was a repeat performance for the trio of Maddie Wagner (80), Gillian Blessinger (85) and Haley Schroeder (86), who all tied for first at the Big Eight Conference meet the prior weekend. Hannah Welp’s 91 and Mady Horney’s 96 completed Jasper’s scorecard.
“I’m so happy to see them bunched together like that at 1, 2 and 3,” Olinger said. “That’s any coach’s dream I think to get first, second and third individually when you’re already getting first as a team.”
That wasn’t the only similarity for Jasper, which, like so many other times this season, had to battle dicey weather. Just after the Wildcats teed off in the final cluster Saturday, the rain invaded. Blessinger had just hit a ball out of bounds off the tee on the second hole, while Schroeder was trying to putt through standing water on the third green when the horn sounded, prompting all golfers to return to the clubhouse.
“Everyone plays through the rain, but it does feel weird because it’s a sectional,” Schroeder said. “But every single golf match we’ve had, it rains. I think there’s only been like one match where it didn’t rain, so we’ve gotten used to it.”
For Blessinger, the key is not to talk or think about golf during the delay. She also did her best to expend any remaining nervous energy after Blessinger said her heart must have been pounding at over 200 beats a minute on the first tee.
So during the delay, she made frequent trips to the golf cart barn to make sure her clubs were still clean in between bouts of pacing around the clubhouse. She really never stopped moving.
“I had a club on me at all times so I was just turning with it on my shoulders and I paced back and forth a lot,” Blessinger said. “I paced back and forth for at least 10 minutes.”
Once the players got back on the course, they had to deal with a slow, waterlogged course. That also meant dealing with the treacherous back nine at Buffalo Trace under unusual conditions.
But those didn’t have much of an effect, Southridge junior Olivia Mundy said.
“The course was still kind of the same,” Mundy said. “Your ball didn’t go quite as far because the ground wasn’t as hard but sometimes that’s a good thing. The greens weren’t as fast so that helped, too.”
Mundy turned in a score of 101, good enough to individually qualify for regional along with Boonville’s Brook Allen (101) and Heritage Hills’ Vicki Nelson (104).
Southridge’s Dalie Wibbeler came close with a score of 106, while Morgan Stapleton (123), Lauren Springer (134) and Macie Marley (139) added to the Raider scorecard. Hannah Weyer (113) and Miranda Sermersheim (117) paced Forest Park, while Caroline Guth (118) and Katelynn Myers (119) provided the next-best scores for Heritage Hills behind Nelson, who qualified for regional for the second straight year.
It was on that back nine Mundy said she realized she had a shot at competing at regional for the second year in a row. Last year, Mundy finished her sectional round in 107 strokes, 11 of which came on the 11th hole. This year, Mundy needed just five shots to complete the par-4 hole that no other player managed to par. Mundy was the only golfer to at least bogey the hole, in large part because she kept her driver in her bag.
That strategy of shooting short and straight rather than long and crooked helped her navigate the soggy course and continue her season.
“Definitely on the back, but not so much on the front because it’s not that big a deal if you’re right or left,” Mundy said. “But on the back you definitely want to go for straight more than you want to go for distance.”
Olinger echoed Mundy’s statement, adding there are few holes at Buffalo Trace where a golfer actually needs her driver. That plays into what Olinger said he’s been preaching to his team all season — playing smart golf and executing around the green.
The Wildcats did that, shooting only eight shots higher as a team on the back nine than the front. That same mentality should come in handy for Saturday’s regional at Country Oaks Golf Club in Montgomery, where the field will include defending state champion Evansville North — which set a state record for the best sectional score when the Huskies fired a 290 over the weekend.
“Obviously, you can’t get tougher competition than the state champs,” Olinger said. “Competition is going to be different, it will be a different mindset, especially for any of the seniors. They’re going to realize this could be the last time they play.”
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