CLASS 2A STATE GOLF TOURNAMENT
There was no element of surprise this time, no sneaking up on anybody.
Turns out it really didn't matter anyway.
A year after coming out of nowhere to win the Class AA State Golf Championship with a team comprised of freshmen and sophomores, the Melbourne Lady Bearkatz successfully defended their crown, and their home turf, by winning the Class 2A State Golf Championship at Cooper's Hawk Golf Club in Melbourne Sept. 26.
The Lady Katz' team total of 266 was 25 strokes better than second-place Izard County Consolidated (291) shot. Shirley finished third at 305, with Greers Ferry-Westside fourth at 323, and Foreman fifth with a team score of 328.
"We feel real fortunate. It's hard to win back-to-back state championships," said Lady Bearkatz Head Coach Phyllis Harmon. "We knew we could and had the possibility to do it, but you just never know. We're just tickled to death to have back-to-back championships. It's been a great experience for the girls."
And knowing that they were the favorites heading into the tournament may have added more pressure to the Melbourne golfers, playing on their home course or not.
"I think it's harder to defend your title (as opposed to winning the first one). For one thing, there's a lot more pressure on you," Harmon said. "We did have some advantage being at home this year. That never hurts, but it still puts a lot of pressure on you going into it. And last year, we had no idea that we would even think about winning the thing. The pressure wasn't there last year. But after winning last year, that changed things. This year the goal was to do it again."
Pressure or not, Melbourne still responded with flying colors.
Junior Abby Cooper paced the Lady Katz with an 83, missing medalist honors by one stroke. Classmate Sarah Moser finished fifth in the individual standings with an 89.
ICC's outstanding freshman golfer Rachel Harmon continued her lights-out play this year by posting a 10-over 82 to earn state medalist honors.
"Abby and Rachel really just played neck-to-neck. It was really fun to watch them," said Harmon.
Rachel Harmon's ICC teammate, Kiley Mettler, carded an 85 to tie with Forman's KayLeigh Cody for third place. Cody beat Mettler on the first playoff hole to punch a ticket, along with Cooper and Harmon, to the Girls' Overall State Championship Oct. 12 at The Majestic Golf Course in Hot Springs.
Harmon was not shocked to see the Lady Cougars of ICC in the thick of a state championship hunt.
"We knew we had competition going into the state tournament because we've played ICC all year," she said. "We knew they'd be right there."
However, a determined group from Melbourne, a group that Harmon said has improved from last year's title run, was able to keep ICC in its rearview mirror for the stretch run.
"Abby Cooper has really come on and improved this year. She's been our leader," Harmon said. "And Sarah Moser has been right behind her. Olivia Morris (junior) has greatly improved this year and really brought in a strong third score for us. And (sophomore) Laura Basquez is still improving. I was glad to have them all back this year, and they'll be back next year, too. They have really played and practiced hard this year, and I think they'll work even harder for next year."
According to Harmon, a round of applause is due not only the Lady Katz, but the entire community as well, for helping support the school and helping to stage a mammoth production like a state tournament.
"We have gotten a lot of support from the community. I can't say enough about the help Jim Cooper at Cooper's Hawk has given us," she said. "He's been out there at practice helping us, but also just having Cooper's Hawk here and the community backing us has been great. We had lots of help with the state tournament, people in the community helping us spot, and they were out there all day. We really appreciate that. The Chamber of Commerce was really behind us. They handed out shirts for the teams. Not just Melbourne, but every team there. It was nice to host the tournament."
Long known locally as an excellent golfing region, with not only Cooper's Hawk, but world-class courses like Turkey Mountain and Cherokee Village North and South, word is spreading about the action on the links in this area.
"This has become a great golfing area. We've got some really fine course around here." Harmon said. "I was out at the course the other day, and these guys from Las Vegas were out there golfing. They were going from golf course to golf course around the state, and it was nice to have them up here. That speaks to the quality of our courses."
And whether or not Cooper's Hawk will see the 2007 state tournament played on it, Harmon knows there will be a host of teams on her squad's trail next season, including a school just 10 miles down the road from Melbourne.
"ICC is right in there. They really came on this year, and they'll be there next year," she said.
Considering that when the 2006 season began a couple of months ago, the Lady Cougars, while they had two super freshman, Harmon and Mettler, didn't have enough members to post a team total, ICC's second-place finish in the state tournament is remarkable. Junior Leathyr Spangler joined the team in recent weeks to give the Lady Cougs the needed three players to compete in team standings.
A young squad a lot like Melbourne was last year when it won its first championship.
Is a third consecutive state title in the future for the Lady Katz?
"Now that would be great pressure," said Harmon. "But I know the girls are going to work hard."