TUCSON – The dynasty continues.
The Xavier Prep Gators took home the girls golf state title at Omni Tucson National Tuesday, one year after being handed only their fourth championship loss since 1979 by the Pinnacle Pioneers.
“This is our 37th state (title), and this was very satisfying. It came down to the end,” Gators coach Sister Lynn Winsor said. “It was good to see a little freshman, Kate Hauptman, make that last putt to win it. COVID-19 (changed a lot) this year, but it didn’t change the enthusiasm, and I think that’s what it’s all about. They love their school, they love the team and they love each other.”
The pandemic made this year’s tournament feel much different.
Spectators at the Omni Tucson National Resort were limited to two per player, and were required to wear masks. Players also wore face coverings before and after competition and remained at least 6 feet away from other players or spectators.
Even during play, there were rule changes to prevent infection. Players could not touch or remove the flagstick, and there were no rakes placed in or near bunkers. They were encouraged to smooth the sand using their feet after hitting a shot from a bunker. And when their ball lands in a bunker, they were allowed to pick up and place their ball within one club length of where it comes to rest, improving their lie if needed because of imperfections in the sand.
In addition to the obstacle of playing during a pandemic, weather conditions were abnormal for a tournament in late October. The temperature at Omni Tucson National never reached 60 degrees for the entire day and the event was played under mostly cloudy skies. It wasn’t until late afternoon, when the final groups were just getting started on the back nine, that the sun came out.
In the midst of playing during the pandemic and battling harsh weather conditions, Liberty’s Maddie Frick birdied the first playoff hole to beat out Hamilton’s Jennifer Seo for the individual state title, while Xavier freshman Hauptman came up just one shot short of joining the playoff.
Hauptman led the Gators with her third-place finish, while junior Ivy Song finished fourth, freshman Jayden Jevnick finished 11th and senior Lauren Garcia finished 16th.
“I just took it one shot at a time and just made sure I had all my fundamentals down,” Hauptman said. “It’s very exciting and a lot of pressure at the end, but I’m glad I could help us take home the victory.”
Winsor made sure to focus on the state title rather than reminiscing on past titles or future titles for her program that now has won nine of the past 10 state titles and 37 in total.
“You never want to talk about streaks, you always want to be happy with the one you win,” Winsor said. “I’m just proud of the kids. Last year we lost by 16 strokes (to Pinnacle) at the state tournament and we lost both of the invitationals we played against Pinnacle in. (Pinnacle) was the favorite going in, there’s no doubt. Like Lauren Garcia said last night to the team, ‘Girls, we have nothing to lose.’ That was our motto today, and we did it. Our two freshmen (really came through), Kate and Jayden.”
Associate coach Tui Selvaratnam pointed to the young team’s preparation as the reason for its success in the state tournament.
“They were a little nervous, but I think they just prepared really well in the past month and I think it showed how determined they were and how badly they wanted it,” Selvaratnam said. “After last year’s defeat, I think everyone thought Pinnacle was going to win it again, but Sister Lynn and I believed in our team. They’re young, but the fun part of having a young team is that they don’t know any better and they just go out and play. This is probably the best win our program has had.”
It was a disappointing performance for the Pinnacle Pioneers, who were slated to repeat as state champions and knock off the powerhouse Gators after a dominating performance at the state preview on Oct. 20.
Pioneers coach Charlie Wilde was not at all disappointed by his team’s performance.
“We were down 16 strokes with seven holes to go and cut it to three. Xavier made two great finishes with a (birdie putt) and a (up and down) for par, so we have to give them all the credit in the world. I was proud of my girls because they never gave up.”
Sophomore Carolyn Fuller birdied each of the last two holes and was a key part of the Pioneers’ back nine comeback.
“Carolyn had the birdies on 17 and 18,” Wilde said. “But I think (everyone) did something to come back, and that’s just how this team is built.”
The Pioneers will lose four seniors that competed in today’s state tournament, with the only returning player being Fuller. Wilde believes he has players that weren’t on the state tournament team that will be ready to step up next year and beyond.
“We’ll probably go to the national championship again next year because we won it this year, even though we didn’t win state,” Wilde said. “Carolyn (Fuller) will come back and lead, and I have three girls who came down here to watch and are ready to (take over the program).”