Bloomington South girls’ golf coach looked down at the difference a year made and beamed.
His Panthers, the same five who took to Cascades Golf Course for the Bloomington North Sectional in 2022, managed to lose a lot of weight, like 35-shots worth, from their team score this time around. It lifted them airborne, all the way to the top on Monday with a 358 and their first sectional title since 2015.
Every Panther shot better, led by a whopping 26-stroke improvement by Macy Hays for a 95. It was their second best team score of the season. Melanie Southern was medalist with a 75, followed by Avery Beck (83) and Paige Hull (105) with Daphne Southern at 107.
“It feels really good and I’m really proud of each and every one of them,” Melanie Southern said. “They’ve worked their butts off. They have practices non-stop. They have done everything they can to get to where we are today.”
Columbus East was second (368) and Martinsville third (379) holding off Columbus North (384). Edgewood was next at 417, North was eighth (434) and Owen Valley 10th (462).
The season will also continue for North senior Darian Lafferty, who fired an 80 to earn an individual spot at regional, which will tee off on Saturday at The Legends in Franklin.
Making of a sectional champ
In addition to work on their swings, the mental side and improved course management led to better confidence and better scores on the list Jim Southern had on his phone.
Besides Hays, Hull lost nine shots, Beck seven, Daphne Southern six and Melanie Southern one. As they look back, perhaps the biggest overall change for the team in one year resides in their heads, rather than in their golf bags.
“It’s having good practices, good attitudes,” Jim Southern said. “I worked with them a lot on the mental game and staying positive, staying in the moment. Every stroke matters. Look forward, those kinds of things. They’re starting to believe that across the board.”
None of them had career bests and they didn’t need to with all of them playing solid rounds and not letting sectional jitters ever get to them. Preparation has led to more confidence.
“It has increased dramatically and that has helped out scores out a lot,” Melanie Southern said.
“This is at least our second year playing in tournaments,” Beck said. “They’re courses that we’ve all seen before so were just really getting more confident in ourselves which has helped our scores.”
Individually, yes, they put in the work, but they also worked to create more of a team atmosphere. They were also playing for each other.
“All of us have really worked hard on mental aspects of the game,” Hays said. “Because with golf, it’s hard to keep moving on shot after shot and making sure that you don’t let one bad shot affect how you play the rest of the match.
“And also this off-season, our top five went out a bunch to play together and build more team bonding and also working on our own games.”
As a coach and father, Jim Southern could hardly be more pleased with the way Daphne has overcome anxiety issues early in the season to lower her career best to 101 and consistently be in the top four.
“I’d say our confidence is way up,” Daphne Southern said. “Because last year, it was crazy. So we really improved.”
Another year older and wiser but for Hull, it’s truly important to stay within herself and be her happy-go-lucky self on the course.
“I think mentally, we’re thinking a little bit differently than we did last year and we got the score that we did today,” Hull said. “For me, I just came in with an open mindset: I don’t care what score I get as long as I tried my hardest. I did my best and did my part. I was happy throughout the whole thing.”
Lafferty moves on
Lafferty had an 80 to tie Brown County’s Lily VanNess for the second and third individual qualifying spots behind Columbus North’s Erin Hopkins (78).
“I feel like I made a lot of progress throughout the years,” Lafferty said. “And this year, it was just piecing it together. One day I had really good chipping, then I’d have really bad drives. Some other days, by irons were on point and I couldn’t putt.
“But I felt like today, everything was pretty well in line.”
That said, she made a mess of her opening hole on Quarry No. 1, carding a triple-bogey. Her tee shot stopped in a bunker, her second shot got wet in the creek. Then back in the the sand… But was able to reset herself and make the best of the remaining 17 holes, including a pair of birdies before she made the turn.
“After that hole, I was just like, OK I need to block that out and make up for it with a few birdies here and there,” Lafferty said. “So I think I was able to do that pretty well and ended up with an 80.”
Lafferty finished well, with a birdie on 16 after her approach stopped a foot from the cup, 17 her second shot came with her ball on a root and she got up and down to still make bogey, and then easily parred 18.
“I was with her the entire time the last three holes,” Muehlhaus said. “Because 18 is a hole, yes she can hit drive off it, but I wasn’t goign to let her hit driver off it. There’s no reason. I told her, ‘We’ve got to make par.’ Her 5-wood was plenty enough.”
The rest of the Cougars, all sectional rookies, Kendon Galligher (113), Kate Johnson (116), Sadie Woodring (125) and Mira Bruce with also reset and hope to make more improvements as their golf careers move along.
“Galligher missed the first few meets of the year because of softball and Kate Johnson? A 116, that’s awesome,” Muehlhaus said.
Edgewood just short
Amara Hanson was eighth overall with an 89 and was the fourth eligible individual qualifier. Boston Chambers had 107, Ava Norton a 110 and a Ashton Sessions a 111 in their first sectional to round out the young Mustangs’ effort. They’ll all be back in 2024 and showed more consistency at the end of this year.
Mustangs coach Garry Lee sent them off on a mission to each improve by a small bit to make a big change in next year’s team score.
“Considering that all four schools that beat us are twice our size or more,” Mustangs coach Garry Lee said. “That’s the struggle with single-class sports.
“Amara’s played hurt pretty much the whole season and she held it together today. Of the other girls, only Boston and Ashton were the only two that played in sectional last year, so that was a good experience. So hopefully that will carry over into next year.”
It was their best finish since taking fourth in 2018.
BLOOMINGTON NORTH SECTIONAL
Team scores (top 3 advance to regional): 1. Bloomington South 358; 2. Columbus East 369; 3. Martinsville 379; 4. Columbus North 384; 5. Edgewood 417; 6. Indian Creek 426; 7. Brown County 428; 8. Bloomington North 434; 9. Edinburgh 440; 10. Owen Valley 462.
Top 10 individuals (*individual qualifier): 1. Melanie Southern, BS, 75; 2. Erin Hopkins, CN, 78*; T3. Darian Lafferty, BN, 80*; Lily VanNess, BC, 80*; 5. Gant, CE, 82; 6. Avery Beck, BS, 83; 7. Lasell, CE, 86; 8. Amara Hanson, Edg, 89; 9. Richardson, Edbgh, 90; 10. Haywood, M, 91.
Other Bloomington South: Macy Hays 95, Paige Hull 105, Daphne Southern 107. Other Bloomington North: Kendon Galligher 113, Kate Johnson 116, Sadie Woodring 125, Mira Bruce 138. Other Edgewood: Boston Chambers 107, Ava Norton 110, Ashton Sessions 111, Addison Hash 112. Owen Valley: Taylor Monroe 106, Olivia Stogsdill 112, Sadie Neff 116, Makayla Hall 127.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Mental approach lifts Bloomington South girls’ golf to sectional title