By BRETT MARSHALL
It will be the final curtain call for two Garden City High School senior golfers when the Lady Buffs play host on Monday to the Class 6A state tournament at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
Seniors Abbi Shaddix and Megan Steward will be making their final high school appearance.
Shaddix, a four-year veteran who has played on teams that have finished seventh, second and fifth in the previous three seasons, will be among the favorites when 92 players tee off at a scheduled 9 a.m. start. A sixth-place individual finisher a year ago at Rolling Hills Country Club, Shaddix is coming off a six-shot regional championship on Monday when she shot a 72 at Carey Park Golf Course in Hutchinson. She is a two-time Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Her senior teammate, Steward, has competed for the Lady Buffs in their two most recent state appearances. It is that veteran leadership that Base hopes will lead the Lady Buffs into a contending position for one of the three team trophies at the Dunes.
"I'm definitely looking forward to play here," Shaddix said. "I've grown up on the golf course and Cole (Wasinger) has been my mentor from the time I started playing in high school. It's pretty neat to be able to play where he's the pro and where I grew up with the game."
For Steward, playing in front of the home crowd — family, friends, classmates — is something that she plans to remember in years to come.
"It's the last tournament I will play in so it's pretty special to play here at home," Steward said. "I'm really excited. We're familiar with the course. I think it's a course that suits us well. We play a lot of hard courses, and this course usually plays hard for girls who haven't played here before."
Steward said she was excited about how much the team had improved during the season, what with freshman Danielle Gaspar, sophomores Kendra Martin and Hannah Leiker and junior Lindsay Bradstreet all lowering scores as the season has progressed.
"We've improved a lot and I think we'll play really well," Steward said. "As a team, we all get along really well and we're supportive of each other. We know how to handle certain things."
Shaddix has bounced back from her disappointment of the 2012 state tournament, where she was two shots out of the lead with four holes remaining, but struggled over that stretch and finished 5-over-par on those holes to shoot an 80 for sixth place.
She has put that experience aside, catalogued it for use, and came back with a strong senior campaign. There's nothing she would like better than to cap off her career with a state title on her home track. Two years ago Mackenzie Thayer captured the first girls individual title for a GCHS golfer when she won at Shadow Glen in Olathe to help the girls to a state team runner-up finish.
"It was hard to get over it at first," Shaddix said of that experience at state. "You learn from it. There's pressure in the moment, and you just have to battle and keep your head up. Playing at home with family, friends, I've just got to block out all the distractions. We've had a good week of practice and I think we're prepared. At regionals, two of the girls had their best rounds and we had our best team score. It proves we can be up there with other teams."
For Base, completing her second year as head coach, she sees a much more mature group heading into this year's state tournament.
"Last year, we kind of had a lull in the season," Base said. "This year, I think the girls have never been satisfied with what they've done. They all have goals, but our younger girls are playing so much better and it's been great for team morale."
While playing at home certainly has its advantages, there are the potential downsides as well. That is something that Base has discussed at length with her team in advance.
"We know the course, we know what our capabilities are here," Base said. "The negatives are that we don't get to spend the entire weekend together like we do on the road. We practice, and then we go home. Last year, the girls were putting in the hallway at night and just having a great time.
"But they're excited, too. It's a great benefit that we can show off our golf course to the rest of the state. The girls have a lot of pride and they want to defend their own golf course."
This will be the sixth season in which the small-class schools in Kansas have not had to battle the Class 4A teams for a girls golf championship.
Until 2008, when the classes were split, giving 4A its own tournament, no small-class school had ever claimed that state title.
Now, though, it's been a western Kansas-dominated event, with Goodland (2008), Larned (2009), Holcomb (2010) and Syracuse (2011-12) all bringing state championship trophies home.
On Monday, it will be Cimarron, Lakin and Holcomb's teams that will attempt to make it six straight for the West, when 12 teams battle for the prestigious title at The Golf Club at Southwind. The tourney is scheduled to get under way at 9 a.m. with players teeing off Nos. 1 and 10.
Long regarded as one of the top courses in Kansas, and site of the annual Southwest Kansas Pro-Am, Southwind will present a distinct challenge to the 87 players.
"It's a unique golf course," said Lakin coach Travis McAtee, who is serving as the host school and meet manager along with athletic director Kim Lohman. "It's lined with native grasses, but there's a lot of width out there.
"I think that's one of the things that our girls have figured out with some practice there this week. You see the openness and it gives the ability to swing away. The biggest problem and challenge will be the greens — they're elevated and they have a lot of undulations. There are a lot of bunkers protecting those greens and it will be a big challenge."
Coming out of the Syracuse regional on Monday at Tamarisk Golf Course were Cimarron's Lady Bluejays, led by medalist Jessica Ast; Lakin in second and Holcomb in third. Holcomb won a tiebreaker for the third qualifying spot over Syracuse after the teams had tied at 463. The fifth player's score, which was not used in the original total, was the tiebreaker score with Holcomb garnering the final place with a 161 to 174 total.
"We've got good, representative teams and a couple of individuals who I think will do well, too," McAtee said.
Among those would be Syracuse's Kiah Rash, who finished second at the state meet a year ago. The Lady Bulldogs of coach Rick Mathias likely would have earned the third spot on Monday had it not been for the fact they were missing their No. 2 player, junior Sydney Brown. Brown, who had placed third at the state in 2012, injured her right wrist in an accident at the Lakin Invitational a week earlier and had her hand in a wrap at the regional meet.
"I talked with Rick and I know he's disappointed not to have his team here," McAtee said. "But I really think Kiah and Laura (Geven) have a chance to do well in the individual competition."
McAtee said that all the western Kansas schools were trying to get in extra practice at Southwind during the week to get more familiar with the nuances of the course.
"The general feeling is that our girls from this area will do well," McAtee said.