NEW FRANKLIN TWP. — Their eyes are still fixated on the ultimate prize.
The Highland and Medina girls golf teams and Wadsworth’s Alice Ho have dreams of advancing to the Division I state tournament. The first step to Ohio State University’s Gray Course was Tuesday at the Turkeyfoot Lake Sectional.
Medina County players failed to disappoint.
The defending state runner-up Hornets (304) finished second to longtime rival Massillon Jackson by three strokes. Medina (329) qualified for its first district tournament since 2007, while Ho (even-par 72) was runner-up medalist to the Polar Bears’ Cassie Pantelas (68), a Seton Hall (N.J.) recruit who set the clubhouse abuzz by acing the 132-yard 13th hole.
“We all played well. It isn’t that big of a deal to me that we lost,” Highland junior Chloe McKinzie said. “I’m really proud.”
Entering the morning as the four-time defending champion at Turkeyfoot Lake Golf Links, Highland was consistent from start to finish before ultimately falling to Jackson’s elite one-two punch of Pantelas, who finished the final five holes 4 under, and Landrie Grace (73).
McKinzie led the Hornets with a 73 that was followed closely by freshman Madison Butler (75). Tournament officials elected to intersperse competing individuals with Highland and Jackson’s three other groups, allowing the duo to be paired with Pantelas and Grace.
The foursome failed to disappoint, as it was a collective 1 over.
“It was different, but I thought it was a lot of fun,” McKinzie said. “We all played well and it was really cool playing with them.
“I just kept playing my game, and it was really fun to watch (Pantelas). You couldn’t help but be excited for her, especially when she had that hole-in-one. That was just awesome.”
While McKinzie and Butler did their thing, the breakthrough of four-year starter Rachel Horvath was paramount in Highland shooting a season low.
The straight-hitting left-hander recorded her lowest score (4-over 76) in 25½ months. Horvath birdied three of her first four holes and finished with the second-lowest front nine of the day (36) due in large part to outstanding scrambling around the greens.
Steady classmate Karly Alexander rounded out the scoring with an 80.
“I had four birdies total, so I was feeling pretty good,” Horvath said. “We came in today feeling pretty good about putting in a low score. We were all pretty proud. We struck in there at the end.”
Medina’s celebration of ending a six-year drought was surprisingly mellow. The Bees fully expected to be in this position.
They have their depth to thank.
Four-year starter Amanda Rom withdrew after 12 holes due to a nagging back injury that’s plagued her for weeks. The margin of error for Mindy Herrick, Megan Pollock, Madison Loftis and Mackenzie Debnar was slim, but they came through with flying colors.
“Before our round, our coach (Mickey McGrath) told us we have not made it districts in six years,” Herrick said. “I feel really happy for our team that we actually made it. I’m excited.”
Herrick (77) was one of just eight players to break 80 on an unseasonably beautiful 75-degree day. The much-improved Pollock continued to grow with a career low (81) for the second straight tournament, Debnar produced the event’s second-best score (83) from the No. 5 position and Loftis eagled the opening hole en route to an 88.
“We worked really hard, so I believe in every one of my teammates,” Debnar said. “We pulled through. We really did, so I’m proud of each and every one of us.
“We had to say, ‘(Withdrawing) is the best for (Amanda).’ The decision was a very good decision on her part. We all had to play our own game and stay really focused.”
Ho’s round began similar to Horvath’s, as the second-team All-Ohioan came out of the gates on fire. The surefire D-I recruit had everything working on her opening nine — she began on the 2,383-yard back — and made the turn with a blistering 2-under 33.
Though Ho’s pace slowed, she was more than happy because there’s not much to be upset about when a 68 is the only better number on the scoreboard.
“I didn’t think 72 would get medalist,” Ho said. “I knew had to break par or get into the 60s, but overall I’m pretty happy.”
“It is a strong start,” she continued. “Finally, in my senior year it isn’t taking me two weeks to put it together.”
Cloverleaf (382), Wadsworth (396) and Brunswick (407) finished ninth, 11th and 14th, but ended their seasons on high notes.
Behind sub-100 rounds from Sierra Pickett (90), Meredith Illig (91) and Nicole Horstman (99), the Colts posted the sixth-lowest score in school history.
The Grizzlies and Blue Devils fired season lows as well. Abigail Luangraj (100) was the No. 2 for Wadsworth, while Maddy Jeske’s 99 and career lows from Devon Matson (100) and Kelly Szczepaniak (101) paced Brunswick.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.