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The game dramatically changed in Monday’s fifth — and final — 3-A Big East Conference girls golf match at Willow Springs Country Club — and Southern Nash thrived.
Until Monday’s 18-hole affair, conference teams had engaged in four nine-hole matches. The decision to play 18 holes was influenced by regional and state North Carolina High School Athletic Association tournaments will be of the 18-hole variety.
Southern Nash utilized the opportunity to erase a 17-shot deficit and deadlock Hunt for the team championship with totals of 853 strokes for 90 holes.
Individually, Southern Nash senior Elisabeth Collie easily protected her eight-shot advantage and reigns as conference player of the year for the second time in the last three seasons.
Collie carded a round of 40-41—81 over the par 36-35—71 Willow Springs layout and wound up with a 213 total after not counting her worst score in a nine-hole round. Her margin of victory was 23 shots.
The Ladybirds of coach Todd Brewer celebated the program’s first conference championship in girls golf, while Hunt either shared or claimed outright the top spot for the fourth consecutive year.
“To come from 17 shots down and tie, we’ll take it!” Brewer exclaimed. “I am proud of the girls and super excited. The girls played great and had a great day. We were playing well and we could tell Hunt was struggling a little bit. Elisabeth led the way with a low score and things fell into place.”
Responded first-year Hunt coach Jon Smith. “It has been a fun year. A different girl stepped up each conference match, and we want to celebrate whether co-(champions) or sole.
“Focus and mental toughness might have been the difference. Another difference was that Elisabeth played a lot better. I feel fortunate to be where we are.”
The tie is unprecedented in Big East history.
HALL, PUCKETT HELP
Southern Nash, of course, set Monday’s pace with a 279 total for its low three individuals. Collie was complemented by senior Taylor Hall at 102 and sophomore Samantha Puckett at 96.
Crucial was Hall delivering pars on Nos. 18, 1 and 2 via a shotgun start. Collie, starting on the No. 6 tee, played her first four holes at even par and registered birdies on par-3 layouts at Nos. 7 and 18.
“Pretty exciting,” Hall assured. “Because of the hard work throughout the year and to come together in big competition was pretty cool. This is a pretty big deal.”
Hall expressed no second thoughts about sharing the title.
“Definitely not,” she said. “We will take it. We are blessed to have this opportunity.”
Of accomplishing her individual goal, Collie declared: “It obviously feels really good. This season has been kind of a struggle — especially at the beginning. At some point during the middle of the season, I was ready for it to be over.
“But playing against strong competition in the tournament at Keith Hills put me in the right gear. Every since then, I have enjoyed every match.”
The team championship represented proverbial icing on the cake.
“That is awesome,” Collier commented. “Hunt is always good and Fike’s had some great teams. It’s a good feeling leaving as a senior because we had never won one. We had a good day. I don’t know what it was but maybe it’s the way it was meant to be.
“I really feel like I did what I wanted to do and this helps to leave a good legacy. I feel like the program is going in the right direction.”
Hunt was paced by junior Connor Worley with a 96 that included a birdie at No. 17. Sophomore Ashton Barnes carded a 98 and sophomore Allison Boykin managed a 102.
Hunt was haunted by a two-shot penalty that resulted when a Lady Warriors player inadvertently hit her teammate’s ball.
Southern Nash golfers contended they benefited from the opportunity to play 18 instead of nine holes.
Admitted Hunt’s Worley: “I feel some of the girls might have been at a disadvantage. I like playing 18 holes; it gives you a second chance to come back.”
And Southern Nash did.
“Southern Nash did a really good job,” Worley commended. “They deserved what they got. There are good days and bad days. Hunt had a bad day. Of course, I’m a little disappointed because we were so ahead. Some of the girls were pretty nervous, and we don’t usually have a lot of nerves. Yes, I was shocked because we were so ahead.”
Fike counted a 99 from freshman Laney Jinks and 103s from freshmen Morgan Harold and Kelsey Miller.
Hunt’s Barnes finished the runner-up to Collie as player of the year. Worley, Hall and Boykin rounded out the top five on the all-conference list. The second five consisted of Jinks, Franklinton sophomore Sarah Kenny, Southern Nash’s Puckett, Hunt senior Gracie Taylor and Harold.
Hunt’s Smith and Southern Nash’s Brewer shared the distinction as coach of the year.
“I told the girls at the start of the season that golf was kind of like life,” Hunt’s Smith noted. “Today was the epitome of that.”