August 25 – Last year only one Tuscola team claimed a Mountain 7 championship – the girls golf team.
“We have a lot of returners and a lot of excitement,” Tuscola head coach Sean Williams said. “I’m excited for all 10 girls to improve. We have a lot of girls that have the potential to make regionals.”
The golf team doubled in size this year, growing from five to 10 players since last season, making it the largest girls golf team in the conference.
This year, the team aims to continue the momentum of back-to-back conference championships with the benefit of a favorable Haywood-heavy schedule. Out of 21 matches and tournaments, 16 take place on Haywood County golf courses.
“You’re more comfortable. You’re more comfortable with it. From a mental standpoint, it’s huge. It’s always an advantage because we don’t have to worry about packing up and going away for half a day and traveling back and forth.” Williams said.
Haywood County is not only overflowing with golf courses, but course managers have been willing to welcome the team with open arms for both practice and matches to cultivate the future generation of golfers – even if it means giving up tee times from paying golfers and members for an afternoon.
“Haywood County golf courses are big supporters, so you don’t have to go away. Everyone likes to come to Haywood County because we have such good access,” Williams said.
The team’s first trip out of the county for competitive action will be Sept. 20 in the North State Girls’ Invitational at Buies Creek at Campbell University.
While the closeness of the games plays into Tuscola’s hands, there is also a downside.
“It’s a good advantage because we know the courts a lot more and they’re a lot closer so it’s not as scary because we know them,” senior Sakari Morgan said. “But I like to travel.”
On top of that, the regional championship will be held at Springdale Resort in Cruso, a course the team is already familiar with and will be even more familiar with after eight events there this season.
“Springdale and all the golf courses in Haywood County really lay down the red carpet for high school golf,” Williams said.
The region also serves as the home of the team’s No. 1 golfer, junior McKenna Williams. She is the back-to-back Mountain 7 Conference Player of the Year. Having the regional tournament on its home turf will only help that.
“Hopefully that’s an advantage,” she said.
Tuscola picks up game wins
The team currently has five games behind them from their first week of competitive play. Through those five games, Tuscola has posted a team record of 4-1.
The team started the season with a three-team match at the Waynesville Inn and Golf Club last Thursday.
“We were ecstatic about it,” Sean Williams said. “It was a great experience. The hard part was hard. However, we played well as a team.”
McKenna Williams tallied a personal best 33 in that season opener. Three other golfers on the team also scored personal bests in their first week of play: senior Sakari Williams with a 45, freshman Abbey Adams with a 46 and sophomore Josie Ostendorff with a 47.
So far this year, Williams has taken home the top score in all but one game.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve been ready to play. I play in tournaments over the summer, so I was ready.”
Tuscola took home the first win of the season, outscoring West Henderson and Cherokee with scores of 126, 146 and 153. Team scores are calculated based on the cumulative scores of the top three golfers of the day.
The next game came the next morning when Tuscola and Rabun Gap met in Springdale. The Eagles gained the advantage in that morning session, before an afternoon session between the Mountaineers, Eagles and Smoky Mountain at Laurel Ridge saw the Mounties back on top of the leaderboard once again.
“We’ve been doing really well and I feel like we’re just going to get better as it goes on,” sophomore Haiden Woods said.
On Monday, the Mounties took down Smoky Mountain in a dual meet 140-167. Sophomore Josie Ostendorff scored a 47 and freshman Abbey Adams dropped a 49 behind McKenna Williams’ 44. Tuscola swept the top three spots in the match.
“I feel good about this year,” Ostendorff said. “I’ve definitely had a lot of improvement from last year.”
On Tuesday, Tuscola then welcomed West and Smoky to Springdale, where the Mountaineers again took first place 134-142-174. Williams and Adams led the way for the Mountaineers with 38 and 46.
“I’m really excited to get to play with all the girls this year, but I’m still a little nervous because I’m new and I’m not as experienced as everyone else,” Adams said. “But I’m really excited about it.”
Adams is the lone freshman among the team’s top five players. She said the jump from middle school to high school has been interesting.
“It’s been different,” Adams said. “Last year [in middle school], it was coed and most of the team were boys. I prefer to play with all girls much better. I feel like I’ve already grown over the last few weeks.”
For others, it has been a transition from freshman to second-year player. This can add stability for the players as they find their footing with their new squad.
Last year, Ostendorff advanced to the team as a freshman. It was scary, but the team was missing a fifth player, so she decided to give it a go. She shot a nine-hole 72 her first match of the season last year, but dropped points quickly thanks to Williams’ coaching — evidenced by her personal-best 47 during the first week of matches this year.
“Going from not playing to joining the golf team last year, it was a big adjustment,” Ostendorff said. “But now I’m rolling right into the season.”
The team’s coach said they are looking to continue their success in recent years by continuing to improve this season.
“I’m excited to see the results,” Sean Williams said. “It’s kind of like the stock market, but you hope to go the other way. You can have peaks and valleys, but if that trend is going down, that’s what we’re looking for.”
He said the courses in Haywood County give them an opportunity to improve their game because of the difficulty they provide.
“The challenge is there with these golf courses in Haywood County,” Sean Williams said. “There’s not really a short course we’re playing this year. There’s a lot of challenge, which is great because [in the] postseason, you get into it.”
One unique thing about golf, and specifically high school golf, is that you spend more time with your opponents during matches than you do with your own team. Each team’s No. 1 golfer plays through the course together, followed by the teams’ No. 2 golfer, and so on.
“I’m most excited to get to know the girls on the other teams,” Ostendorff said. “We spend most of our time with girls on the other teams. They’re great competition, but they’re also really friendly and really encouraging and fun to be around. I think that’s what makes golf so unique.”
Woods echoed the sentiment.
“I’m just excited to spend time with my friends and meet new people,” she said. “It’s been nice to get to know all the other girls from teams we’ve played with. They’re all super nice.”
While the girls continue to enjoy spending time with players from other schools, it has been the Mountaineers who have won off the field most of the time.
“I’m looking for a lot of wins and very, very few losses this year,” Coach Williams said.