COLUMBUS — The girls golf team that has finished fourth, third and second at the last three Division I state tournaments feels like the darkhouse.
Welcome to the world of Highland, where players graduate but expectations remain the same.
The reason the Hornets are overlooked heading into this morning’s first round at Ohio State University Golf Club’s Gray Course is simple: reigning state medalist Jessica Porvasnik is starring for the Buckeyes and second-team All-Ohioan Jessica McRae is at Ohio University.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on our shoulders because we’ve showed we’re still in this,” junior No. 1 Chloe McKinzie said. “That’s a good feeling to have — to prove a lot of people wrong — so it’s not that big of a deal to me as long as we show them what we’re capable of doing.
“It’s very important that we play as a team instead of individuals. That’s what we’re doing this weekend. There’s a lot of teams out there who are playing for themselves. We’re playing for Highland. That’s huge.”
Though its 18-hole average is nearly 10 strokes behind last year’s record-smashing pace, Highland has remained in the same conversation as Northeast Ohio superpowers Massillon Jackson, Magnificat and Kent Roosevelt.
The Hornets are coming off second place at the Turkeyfoot Lake Sectional and third at the Legends of Massillon District. Their combined 622 score was only nine strokes behind the Polar Bears, who are considered a serious state title contender behind their 1-2 punch of Landrie Grace and Cassie Pantelas.
Two-time defending champion Dublin Jerome, which edged Highland by one stroke for last season’s crown, and Dublin Coffman are the other big names on the bunker-filled 5,311-yard layout.
The Hornets will tee off beginning at 9 o’clock on the more-difficult back nine alongside predicted bottom feeders Canfield and Cincinnati St. Ursula.
“You know, I haven’t really thought about (expectations) too much,” McKinzie said. “I’ve been taking it one day at a time. I want everyone to play the way they’re capable of playing because we’re all really playing well at this point.”
Highland banked on Porvasnik’s star power over the last two seasons, but has adjusted accordingly. The Hornets still have surefire D-I recruit McKinzie (38.4 average) to go with touted freshman Madison Butler (40.3), steady seniors Rachel Horvath (41.1) and Karly Alexander (41.4) and junior Hallie Schuld (43.6), whose 78 at districts was a key storyline.
The Hornets are 1-for-9 competing against rival Jackson this season, but the lone win came at the Turkeyfoot Invitational one month ago.
The momentum of getting over that hump continued into the postseason, where Highland appears to be peaking.
“(Beating Jackson gave us) a lot of confidence,” McKinzie said. “It was really good and we’re really proud of ourselves, especially when people wrote us off. To be able to stay with that team is huge.”
The Hornets won’t be alone in Columbus, as Wadsworth senior Alice Ho and Medina freshman Mindy Herrick will compete as individuals.
Ho, one of the most decorated players in Medina County history, is making her third state appearance — she missed by one stroke as a sophomore — and is coming off a brilliant 2012 in which she was second-team All-Ohio with a 78-74—152.
It will be her last opportunity to show off in front of college coaches, who are already well-aware of her abilities.
Meanwhile, Herrick will join Rachel Brakeman, who tied for fourth place in 1994, as the only players in Bees history to compete at state as individuals. The first-team All-Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division selection qualified with solid scores of 77 and 79 over the past two weeks.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.