Setting the bar high
By BRETT MARSHALL
Syracuse's Lady Bulldogs golf team might not have won Thursday's Holcomb Invitational at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course — that was reserved for Goodland's Lady Cowgirls — but coach Rick Mathias' two-time defending Class 3-2-1A state champions were good enough to take second behind their northern opponents.
Goodland, a likely Class 4A school, cruised to the team title with a 383 total, using its four best of six scores, while Mathias' squad was well back at 417.
But what the Lady Bulldogs did get out of the tournament, in addition to the team runner-up finish, was the second and third medalist winners in senior Kiah Rash (91) and junior Sydney Brown (93). It was Goodland's Paulina Wagner, with a steady round of 84, who claimed the top individual spot.
Holcomb's Lady Longhorns, sparked by senior Olivia Ortega's fifth-place finish at 95, took third with a 444 total. Ulysses, Lakin and Colby all had 466s, but the Lady Tigers' fifth player had a lower score than the other two to break the tie. Lakin's fifth player also shot a lower score than Colby's. Cimarron rounded out the seven teams that scored with a 466. The Lady Bluejays were led by Jessica Ast's sixth-place finish with a 97.
Nevertheless, battling wind that was a steady 32 mph with gusts up to 44 mph, the Lady Bulldogs came away with a shot of confidence as they head into the homestretch of the 2013 regular season.
For Rash, last year's state runner-up, and Brown, third at state for the champion Lady 'Dogs, Thursday was as much about perseverance and keeping one's poise as it was about the score.
"It was a challenge for sure," said Rash, who is the younger sister of 2009 3-2-1A state champion Kamie, now competing at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina. "From the moment I found out we were playing the ball down, my goal was to keep it in play. The wind didn't affect me as much as just dealing with my mental approach. I'm harder on myself, and I just came to a point where I had to take a breath and then hit my shot. I'm finally getting that the next shot is the most important shot I can make. Golf's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical."
Rash had nines of 44-47 while Brown struggled early with a 51 but bounced back with a 44 on the incoming nine.
"It's a good feeling to play this well in the wind," said Brown, who dropped seven shots from her score of a week earlier at the Garden City Invitational on the same layout, but in much more favorable weather conditions. "It gives me confidence because early in the season I was struggling. But the last couple of weeks, I've worked very hard on my game, and it's nice to see the improvement."
While the Syracuse duo was leading the way for Mathias' squad, the veteran Bulldog coach is searching for depth at his Nos. 4, 5 and 6 spots to provide the necessary support when it comes to the October postseason. The Lady Bulldogs will host their regional tournament at Tamarisk Golf Course (Oct. 14) and then only have to travel one hour east to play at Garden City's The Golf Club at Southwind for state (Oct. 21).
"We're looking forward to making progress the rest of the regular season, but we for sure need more than the top two girls," Mathias said. "I'm pretty danged pleased today, considering the wind they played in. We threw away a few shots like everybody else, but I'm excited for them. But for us to contend later, we've got to start producing at those fourth, fifth and sixth spots."
Mathias' No. 3 player, Laura Geven, had a 109 while his fourth player, Maria Montes, had to withdraw due to illness. His Nos. 5 and 6 players were well back with scores of 124 and 142.
It was only a week earlier at the Dunes when Rash had struggled on the opening nine with a 47, but rallied her best ever nine of 39 to shoot an 86 and place fourth.
"Shooting a 39 told me that if I can do it once, I can do it again," Rash said. "I spent more time in the offseason than any time in the past, and I'm motivated to see how far I can move on."
Both Rash and Brown insist they are not feeling the pressure of a potential three-peat at this year's state tourney.
"We know what it takes, and we're dedicated to get us a three-peat, but it's nothing we dwell on," Brown said. "We try to ignore all the outside stuff and just focus on our game and trying to get better. It's pretty cool to walk down the hall at school by the trophy case and to see those sitting there and know you're a part of that trophy."
For Rash, playing in the shadow of her older sister has been nothing but a positive experience for the younger sibling.
"She's an incredible athlete," Kiah said of older sister Kamie. "But I don't feel pressure to follow her. I'll be happy to do the best I can, and if I do that, I'll be just as close as anyone at state."
Emily Eggleston and Aubrey Anson topped Lakin's scoring with scores of 107 and 108 while Ulysses' best scores came from Savannah Carpenter (108) and Bailey Pfingsten (109).
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.