Editor's Note : The following is the fourth in a series highlighting the Top 10 local and area sports stories of 2009 as chosen by the staff of The Garden City Telegram. Today's story, No. 7, is about Syracuse senior golfer Kamie Rash.
By BRETT MARSHALL
SYRACUSE — As Syracuse senior Kamie Rash climbed into the USD-494 van with her coach and teammates early on the morning of Sept. 8, she was nervous, anxious and excited.
For good reason.
It would be her first competitive sports venture since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee back in early February in a basketball game at Elkhart. Surgery followed in early March and then months of grueling rehabilitation followed.
She had been able to move up her appointment with her orthopaedic surgeon in Colorado Springs by a few days and got clearance to compete.
"I was really nervous and just thinking go and do your best," Rash said in recalling the van ride to Goodland. "It was my first tournament back and I just tried to lay out what I wanted and just said to myself 'see what you've got.'"
Rash shot an 83 and claimed individual medalist honors. Her score was lower than anything she had shot as a junior when she claimed the runner-up medal at the Class 3-2-1A state tournament in Emporia. And, she had only played three holes of golf with three days of abbreviated practice on the range.
"I didn't know what to really expect," Rash said, "but after a few holes it felt like old times. I was surprised, though, with the score. To win, was just a bonus."
That victory propelled her into a senior campaign in which she won medalist honors in six of the seven tournaments in which she competed, including capturing the 3-2-1A state crown that had eluded her the year before. Her performance has earned her The Telegram's No. 7 Sports Story for 2009 as voted on by The Telegram staff.
Looking back, Rash can honestly say that her summer rehabilitation forced her to spend time working on her short game — putting, chipping, pitching — since she couldn't make full golf swings.
"I wouldn't want to go through the rehabilitation (again) but it did help me improve my short game," Rash said. "(The short game) will honestly change the way you play and it showed in that first tournament."
With a competitive nature, Rash went to Syracuse's Tamarisk Golf Course nearly every day of the summer and spent hours practicing.
"To go to Goodland and win that first tournament was very satisfying because I knew all my hard work had paid off," Rash said. "It was all smiles that day and it just felt really good to be able to go out and compete again."
Rash said she also had a sense of gratitude for being able to return to playing sports again.
"Sometimes you just take it for granted," Rash said, "but after the severe knee injury, I honestly didn't know how it would be to come back. Knowing that you worked your tail off gives you a greater feeling than just winning. I felt like I was back and it set the bar for the rest of the season."
Rash would follow that Goodland victory by playing in the Garden City High School Invitational the following week at Buffalo Dunes where she was paired with Western Athletic Conference player of the year Mackenzie Thayer of Garden City High School and two other top players from Class 5-6A.
Playing with some of the best players in western Kansas was a learning curve for Rash, who opened the tournament with a quadruple bogey 9 on the par-5 first hole. She would, however, recover and finish with an 87, good for fourth place.
"I loved playing with them," Rash said of the girls from the bigger schools. "It makes you play under pressure and I saw that they were a lot more serious about how they played and could do more things than most of the girls that I play against in Class 3-2-1A."
That fourth place individual finish would be the only blot on an otherwise perfect season.
She would go on to claim regular season titles at the Holcomb Invitational (played at The Golf Club at Southwind, a nine-hole event), Lakin Invitational, and Syracuse Invitational (reduced to nine holes by weather). That would serve as the tune-up for the 3-2-1A regional that was also played at Goodland.
"I wanted to come back my senior year and be a state champion," Rash said. "If you set your mind to it, and work very hard, you have a good chance to accomplish your goals. I wanted to make sure to get it done."
At the regional tournament on the Sugar Hills Country Club, Rash and the rest of the field had to deal with temperatures in the 30s and the wind blowing at about 15 miles per hour. She battled the inclement weather and shot an 86 (her second highest score of the year) but still claimed medalist honors to send her back to the state tourney.
"Getting back to state was a good feeling, but this time I wanted to come home with a first," Rash said. "It was really helpful to have my teammates there which allowed me to relax a little more."
With the temperature moderating the day of the state championship at Great Bend's Lake Barton Golf Course, Rash started off strong and eventually shot a 41 on the front nine.
"The day got off to a great start and I played with one girl that was in my group (at state) the year before," Rash said. "When you start off good, that's a good feeling and you relax a little. It wasn't a good finish to the front nine, but I got a great start on the back nine."
When she was at the No. 16 green, she knew she had the lead but didn't take anything for granted.
"When you know you're there and have a chance to get it, you don't want to open the door for anybody else to come in," Rash said. "You want to finish it off."
And she did.
Her round of 81 was eight shots clear of the second-place finisher.
"There was a sense of accomplishment and a great feeling of reaching your goal," Rash said.
And when asked how to describe the nearly unbeaten season she experienced, Rash said, "I didn't think I'd win every tournament. You're going to have some off days and some hot days and you just hope to go out and do your best. That's what I tried to do."