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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Sunday, September 9, 2018

NorthWood’s girls golf team shows how many straight NLC titles they’ve won after claiming the conference tournament championship at Black Squirrel Saturday. (Photos by James Costello)

GOSHEN — NorthWood’s girls golf team has put in some long, long hours out on the course.

The Lady Panthers have been known to stick around well after hours of regular practice to put in extra time and then, of course, as student-athletes, there’s still homework to be done and class in the morning. It’s a lot of work for anyone, let alone a group of high school students with all the usual social demands calling for their attention. But it’s also been the blueprint for the No. 12-ranked team’s unbelievable run of Northern Lakes Conference success.

NorthWood, which ran its NLC dual meet win streak out to 50 straight at its round robin-closer versus Concord Aug. 30, secured the title at the league tournament Saturday to push its conference championship streak to seven straight seasons. No other program in school history has accomplished such a feat. There’s no real secret ingredient to the Lady Panthers’ success; it’s only the many hours of preparation they continue to put in, year after year. And on days like Saturday, all that hard work becomes worth it.

“These girls spend a lot of time working on their game, and they do it for moments like today,” said head coach Adam Yoder. “They do it because they want to win, and sometimes that’s a challenge for them because they know the target is on their back. They went out there and handled themselves so well today. They prepared for this course and put the ball in the right spots and made sure to put up a good score.”

Summer Stillson watches her tee shot during NLC Tournament play Saturday. Stillson hit driver just three times to stay out of trouble on the way to the NLC Medal.

Freshman Cybil Stillson fired a 78 in wet, surprisingly cold conditions at Black Squirrel to capture the individual championship and lead NorthWood to a school-record 339 NLC Tournament score Saturday. Stillson becomes the seventh NLC Medalist for the program in the last 11 years and the first since older sister Summer did it back in 2016. The rangy frosh had to throttle back on her usually reliable long game at Black Squirrel, where placement of many of the ladies’ tee boxes makes for some awkward angles and challenging course management problems. She birdied the par 4 sixth and 13th holes and ran off a string of four straight pars on Holes 1 through 4 en route to her individual honors.

“What I’m most impressed with today is her willingness to pull off the gas pedal. She hit a driver three times today because if she does (hit more drivers), percentages say she can get in a lot of trouble,” explained Yoder. “And for a freshman to have that willingness to be disciplined to hit irons off tees and play to her strength, which is her ball striking, that was very impressive to me. When things were going well, things were going bad for her during her round, she stuck to her game plan.”

“I tried to play careful but also aggressive to give myself opportunities to make birdie,” said Stillson. “But also this course is pretty tight, and some of the holes are difficult from the women’s tees. I wasn’t able to hit as many drivers as I like to because I feel like the driver is my best part of my game. Since I wasn’t able to hit driver, I had to hit irons and play the course a little longer than what I would’ve liked to have played it. That was a little difficult, but I feel like I made a lot of good putts.”

Alongside Stillson, three other NorthWood golfers played their way onto the All-NLC team, and the team’s fifth golfer collected all-conference honorable mention following the coaches’ meeting Saturday.

Seniors MacKenzie Weaver and Abby Slabaugh and junior Delaney Davis — who holed her third shot from 89 yards out on the par 4 sixth hole at the tourney — all posted scores of 87 to finish in a three-way tie for fifth and give their squad an ultra-consistent top four scores at the meet. Even the team’s fifth score — Kirsten Schrock’s 93 — was good enough for 14th place individually, and Schrock was given All-NLC Honorable Mention for her efforts at the tourney. Like the Lady Panthers’ run of seven straight NLC titles, no other program in school history has ever netted itself five All-NLC distinctions in one season.

Weaver had a fair bit of trouble in spots at Black Squirrel, in particular a quadruple on the par 5 12th costing her some strokes. But her round was still plenty good enough to earn her a fourth-straight All-NLC nod, matching a program-best only accomplished once before by Summer Stillson, who was on hand Saturday to watch Weaver equal the feat and her younger sister capture the individual crown.

“She made it interesting today,” said Yoder of Weaver. “MacKenzie had a couple bad holes. She didn’t play her best, but it was nice to see her get that medal because she’s been the stalwart for several years here.”

Maddy Ray hits a tee shot for Warsaw. Ray was given All-NLC Honorable Mention following Saturday’s meet.

While NorthWood made history for itself, Warsaw carded a 368 for third place in the team standings, just two strokes behind runner-up Northridge. It wasn’t enough to seriously shake up the final conference standings, but after a 4-3 finish in round robin play and playing on an unfamiliar course in less-than-ideal conditions, it wasn’t too shabby, either.

“Our team score was pretty good. We were hoping coming in that we’d post something a little closer to 355 or so, but overall with the weather and it being a new course we were happy with it,” said Warsaw coach Tad Nieter.

The Lady Tigers were paced by senior Madelyn Ray, who was named All-NLC Honorable Mention for the squad after carding 88 Saturday.

“She played great all through the round robin matches, and then today she played rock solid,” said Nieter. “She’s been really solid for us all season long, so for her to be honorable mention is a good accomplishment for her.”

Grayson Kilburn posted a 91, Madelyn’s sister Izzy Ray shot 94, and Julia Hildebrand carded 95. Miriam Hagg’s 104 was the team’s fifth score at the tilt.

Like Warsaw, Wawasee also had a golfer earn herself All-NLC kudos Saturday. Belle Brunner turned in a strong 86 to finish in fourth place on the individual leaderboard and garner an all-conference first team pick. If it weren’t for some trouble on the par 4 11th, Brunner likely would have gone even lower at Black Squirrel.

Wawasee’s Belle Brunner wedges out of a sand trap on the front at Black Squirrel.

“Belle played really well. She took an 8 on one hole where she was in perfect shape on the fairway, pulled it left just outside of the hazard in some bad grass, took a couple to get out and put it next to the bunker in more bad grass and still hit an 8. Other than that, she played really, really well,” said Lady Warriors coach Steve Coverstone.

Lesley Tayagua turned in a solid 96 playing in the third grouping for Wawasee, and the team got a 98 from Tate Cowan, who has come on in the home stretch of the season after splitting time between the Warriors’ JV and varsity lineups this fall.

“She just started playing pretty well the last couple of weeks so she’s moved up, and she’s going to play sectional,” said Coverstone of Cowan.

Meanwhile for Wawasee, Jadison Rostochak posted a 105, and Valerie Haessig scored a 112 as the Warriors wound up in fifth place with a 385 at the conference finale.

“We just went out to play the best that we could play,” said Coverstone. “If you throw a number up there then it makes it tough. If you just try to hit good shot after good shot, that’s the best way to play — worry about the next shot.”

With the conference schedule now in the books, the post-season is just around the corner for girls golf teams. Warsaw plays in a three-team meet at Whitko Tuesday, and NorthWood plays in a three-way of its own at LaPorte Wednesday before both teams reunite with Wawasee and fellow NLC squad Plymouth at the Warsaw Sectional Saturday at Stonehenge.

“I think the girls are finally hitting their stride in the season with sectionals coming up next week. We’re really looking forward to it, especially being on our home course,” said Nieter. “We’re going to get back at it this week. We’ve got some things that we need to work on, and we’re going to hit it hard this week.”

“We have high goals for our team because we know that we are capable of definitely doing well in regional and moving on to the state finals,” said Stillson. “We just want to get there and do our best.”

Posted In: Girl's Sports > Golf