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  • Val T.

‘Heartwrenching:’ Rochester’s Thomas, Bailey finish 2 strokes out of state

Lady Zs finish 4th at regional in near-miss for team, top 2 individuals


Sports Editor, RTC

DEMOTTE — Sophomore Ava Thomas and freshman Olivia Bailey are not just teammates on the Rochester girls golf team, but they are also best friends.

They went through a cyclone of emotions in about a 30-minute span at the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf Club on Sept. 24 that would be hard to compare to any teammates in any other high school sport.

They went from possibly both making state to possibly being pitted against each other for one state spot to both missing out on state and having their season end simultaneously.

As Lady Z coach Chad Thomas said afterwards, it’s not the golfing that’s the most stressful but rather the waiting.

Penn wound up winning the regional with a 340. Lake Central (349) and Valparaiso (366) also finished in the top three and also advanced to state. Penn’s Delaney Wade was the medalist with a 72. She finished seven strokes ahead of the field.

Rochester was fourth with a 370. The team score was posted early, and the players were aware they were not going to finish in the top three.

Thomas and Bailey each shot an 83, Payton Moore had a 91, Delaney Barkman had a 113, and Savanah Eccles had a 121.

But if that was agonizing, the real drama came when all the other players finished their rounds. The top two players on non-advancing teams advanced to state – it was top five last year but reduced to top two after the IHSAA added a sixth regional and allowed three more teams to advance – and Thomas and Bailey had those two spots with about three groups left to report.

With about three groups left to finish, Kankakee Valley’s Brynlee DeBoard’s 81 was posted on the scoreboard. That meant that DeBoard was in for the time being and Thomas and Bailey were tied for second.

That meant that they could have to play each other in a sudden death playoff for the second state spot.

Before the last group reported, tournament officials told Thomas and Bailey to both warm up for a playoff.

But then that last group reported, and Crown Point’s Kenzie Wilson scored a 79. Wilson and DeBoard were in, and Thomas and Bailey were out.

“Heartwrenching,” Thomas later said of the approximately 30 minutes from the time she finished her round until the final scores were posted.

Bailey called the wait “nerve-wracking and upsetting.”

“Just because we were hopeful at the beginning, but we have hope for next year,” Bailey said.

Coach Thomas described a “roller coaster of emotions” when it was over. Rochester tied for second in the Three Rivers Conference and finished just two strokes behind winner Maconaquah. They finished second at the Twin Lakes sectional, seven strokes behind Kankakee Valley.

“It’s tough,” coach Thomas said. “We’ve had three weeks in a row now of incredibly close tournaments when it comes down to golf scores. The girls gave it their all the whole time. I just told them leading up to this (to) focus 100 percent on every shot. It just didn’t pan out for us today.

“To go from the unknown of not knowing how all the teams are doing to seeing how close we are as a team to the individual portion of it, I’ve never been a part of something like that as a coach, and I’ve been doing it awhile.”

Ava Thomas later said she did not think 83 would be good enough for both her and Bailey to advance.

“We knew somebody was probably going to come in, and we were going to have a tiebreaker,” Ava said.

Asked how much she feared that, Ava said “a lot.”

“That would have been really awkward because one of us would have not made it and the other one would have, and that would have been really sad,” Ava said.

Bailey said her emotions were “on the fence.”

“I didn’t really know,” Bailey said. “I was trying to think that maybe we would be in a playoff, but it was a little scary to think about because we’re best friends, and one of us wouldn’t make it if we did a playoff.”

Rochester players started on the back nine on the hazard-filled Sandy Pines course: Thirteen of the holes had water and 16 holes at bunkers.

Bailey said the course played long, but she could not hit driver on many of the holes for fear of finding either water or a bunker.

That included No. 6, a par-4 so difficult that it caused bottlenecks among players who struggled to finish it. That hole had a narrow fairway, a dogleg to the right, a daunting creek for a player’s second shot and a large bunker in front of the hole.

To be prepared for holes like No. 6, it takes a summer’s worth of work. Barkman was thankful for all her family being there, including her sister Whitley, an Indiana University student who traveled from Bloomington to see her play.

“There’s a lot of different emotions,” Barkman said. “Definitely heartbreaking, but we gave it our all. … It’s all summer leading up to it. Almost every day you have to be out there. If you’re not playing holes, you’re going to the driving range. If you’re not going on the driving range, you’re at least putting. So it’s a lot.”

And then after all that work on a course that coach Thomas said “kicks you in the butt,” there is waiting accompanied with a bit of mystery.

“I really wish people understood how much time and effort these girls put into the game,” coach Thomas said. “Golf is such a weird sport. When you go to a football game or basketball game, you know exactly where everybody stands. Here you don’t know and the waiting kills you.”

at Sandy Pines Golf Club, DeMotte, Sept. 24 (par 72)

Penn 340, Lake Central 349, Valparaiso 366, Rochester 370, Kankakee Valley 371, Munster 375, New Prairie 382, Crown Point 382, Logansport 393, LaPorte 399, Mishawaka Marian 401, Chesterton 403, South Bend St. Joe 414, Portage 422, Knox 472

PENN (340): Wade 72, Tobin 83, Daniels 91, Biever 94, (Peterson 122)

LAKE CENTRAL (349): Golec 79, Safranek 85, Urbanski 88, Sawyer 97, (Huppenthal 97)

VALPARAISO (366): Rossman 86, Lee 86, Ribordy 87, Isley 107, (Coberg 117)

ROCHESTER (370): Ava Thomas (43-40) 83, Olivia Bailey (40-43) 83, Payton Moore (44-47) 91, Delaney Barkman (57-56) 113, (Savanah Eccles (60-61) 121)

KANKAKEE VALLEY (371): DeBoard 81, Rushmore 90, Van Loon 100, Rondeau 100, (Lukasik 101)

MUNSTER (375): Schmidt 89, Edens 93, Jeknic 96, Zangrilli 97, (Stephan 101)

NEW PRAIRIE (382): Winters 88, Bauman 90, Flagg 94, Tierney 110, (Kole 116)

CROWN POINT (382): Wilson 79, Weiss 96, Harper 98, Noort 109, (Caddick 118)

LOGANSPORT (393): Moon 92, Crook 92, Weaver 103, Kay 106, (Sutton 109)

LAPORTE (399): Menne 90, Kubik 99, Miskowicz 105, Korell 105, (Riley 123)

MISHAWAKA MARIAN (401): Hahn 90, M. Weston 96, Florkowski 105, Tinervia 110, (L. Weston 127)

CHESTERTON (403): Gray 94, Soggin 99, Lawrence 101, Orsburn 109, (Metcalf 124)

SOUTH BEND ST. JOE (414): Dunham 95, Guyton 100, Jeffrey 107, Hannewyk 112, (Schmeltz 112)

PORTAGE (422): Hall 98, Switzer 103, Melendez 109, Payne-Gall 112, (Lugo 115)

KNOX (472): Jaelynn Goins 112, Montague 114, Messer 116, Barnes 130, (Jordynn Goins 137)

Top two players on non-advancing teams: 1. Kenzie Wilson (Crown Point) – 79, 2. Brynlee DeBoard (Kankakee Valley) – 81

Medalist: Delaney Wade (Penn) – 72

Rochester’s Olivia Bailey, left, and Ava Thomas tied for third among individuals on non-advancing teams with an 83 at the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf Club in DeMotte on Sept. 24. Each missed making the state finals by two strokes.

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