By BRETT MARSHALL
On Thursday, the Syracuse Lady Bulldogs returned to Buffalo Dunes Golf Course for the Holcomb Invitational.
Just 10 days earlier, they placed fourth in the Garden City Invitational that was dotted with many big-class schools, including the host Class 6A power Lady Buffs.
This time, with only seven schools in Class 4A and smaller, the Lady Bulldogs showcased what has been their trademark all season — team balance and getting four players with scores under 50 (for nine holes).
The result was a runaway victory, as coach Rick Mathias' squad shot a 180 while runner-up Holcomb was well back at 209. Colby finished third on the basis of a tiebreaker with Ulysses because both teams were at 210.
Leading the way for the Lady Bulldogs was senior Madison Brown, whose 42 was two shots clear of teammate Stephanie Geven, Sublette's Katelyn Marlin and Colby's Kaylee Keck.
"My short game continues to get better," said Brown, who garnered her first individual title of her four-year career. "It just felt really great to shoot a score where I know I can. We're doing well as a team and that keeps us all excited."
In addition to Brown and Geven, Kiah Rash and Alia Neubrandt added 47s, and finished tied for sixth, individually.
"We had no idea at the start of the season how we'd do," said Brown, who had placed fifth at the Garden City tourney with an 85. "Now, we're excited to get to practice and to get to the next tournament. The season is just flying by."
When Brown left the first hole of the day (11th, par-4), she was three over par with a triple-bogey seven. While many golfers would have struggled to overcome such a tough start, Brown had a brief pep talk with herself and it worked.
"I just said, 'I've been practicing too hard on weekends and during the week to shoot a bad score,'" Brown said. "I just told myself I've got to get it going. My drives weren't going anywhere at first and then I was able to start crunching them."
An early key to her round was making about a 15-foot par putt on the 13th, a par-5, when it hit the back of the hole, popped up and fell back into the hole.
"That helped me get back into the rhythm of my swing," Brown said. "I wasn't stressing."
After hitting a good drive on the 15th hole, she got within 10 feet of the hole using a 7-iron before making the putt for a birdie.
"It's my first birdie in a tournament this year and probably in a long time," Brown said. "Being a medalist is something that I've always wanted, and it feels good to finally get it. I'm just so excited for the rest of the season, not just for myself individually, but for the team, too."
For the veteran Mathias, watching his team improve through the season has been satisfying.
"We made a big turn of the corner when we came and played here with the bigger schools," Mathias said. "We just wanted to get close to some of the big schools, but we were able to get in there and break some of them up. That was a big confidence builder for the girls. We've challenged them every day and they've responded by working very hard. Every player has brought their scores down through the season."
Mathias said he has been impressed with his team's ability to handle adversity on the course.
"When something has happened, they haven't panicked," Mathias said. "They've been hitting good shots. The mental toughness comes from their work ethic and I think they understand that is why they're doing well."
Mathias said that when the Lady Bulldogs played in the earlier event, their back nine team total was 198 compared to the 180 winning score they posted Thursday. And he noticed a difference in Brown's approach after her top five finish.
"The light came on for her when we put our players in order of their (season average) scores," Mathias said. "Since then (Brown had been dropped to fourth), she's been so focused and she's just playing very well. The team has gotten more aggressive in their play and worked very hard on their short game."
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.