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  • Val T.

‘O’ yes: Bailey shoots 72 at Sandy Pines, becomes first Lady Z regional medalist

Thomas shoots 76, also advances to state, but Rochester misses state as team by 1 stroke; Huizar falls in playoff after 78


Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester’s Ava Thomas, left, and Olivia Bailey advanced to the IHSAA state finals from the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf in DeMotte Saturday. Bailey was the medalist with a 72, and Thomas had the second-lowest score among individuals on non-advancing teams with a 76. Bailey and Thomas had the two lowest posted scores among the 87 golfers who participated

DEMOTTE — One year after coming agonizingly close to qualifying for the IHSAA state finals, Rochester’s best friends and golfing sensations Olivia Bailey and Ava Thomas left no doubt Saturday, posting the two lowest scores at the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf Club in DeMotte to earn state berths.

They came within one shot of bringing the full contingent of Lady Zs.

Rochester shot a 356 and finished in fourth place, just one stroke behind third-place Chesterton. Only the top three teams advanced to state.

Rochester was also fourth at the 2022 regional, finishing four strokes out of third. The team has not made state since 2013.

Penn won the regional with a 327, their second straight and their 15th in school history. Kankakee Valley, who was second with a 346, will join Penn and Chesterton.

Bailey shot a 72, Thomas added a 76, Payton Moore had a 91, Lexi Haughs had a 117, and Ella McCarter had a 124.

The three lowest individual scores among players on non-advancing teams were Bailey, Thomas and South Bend St. Joe’s Marley Dunham (78), and they also advanced to state.

It was an excruciating end to an otherwise joyous day.

“It’s very, very tough,” Rochester coach Chad Thomas said. “I think back about the shots that could have gone better, but you could do that with every round of golf with every player. It’s very bittersweet. I thought it would be close. I didn’t know it would be that close.”

Bailey is the first Rochester girls golfer to win regional medalist honors.

“It’s really exciting,” Bailey said. “I’m really glad that all of this hard work has paid off so far.”

The daughter of a coach, Ava Thomas had walked the course growing up watching the Lingenfelter sisters lead Rochester to back-to-back state finals appearances in 2012 and 2013.

Now she is going to state herself.

“It feels amazing,” Ava Thomas said. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”

Dunham birdied the first hole of a sudden death playoff to earn the final state spot over Winamac’s Bianca Huizar.

Both Bailey and Thomas shot 83 at the 2022 regional. They tied for third among individuals on non-advancing teams, but only the top two advanced to state. The IHSAA amended its qualification procedures for the 2023-24 school year to allow the third-place individual to advance, and Dunham used that new avenue to punch her state ticket.

Rochester’s Olivia Bailey putts on No. 16 during the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf Club in DeMotte Saturday. Bailey shot an even-par 72 to win medalist honors by four strokes over teammate Ava Thomas. Bailey, a sophomore, and Thomas, a junior, are heading to the state finals for the first time.

Already all-conference golfers, Bailey, a sophomore, and Thomas, a junior, got even better. On many holes, they left their driver in the bag, opting to hit shorter woods and sacrificing distance for greater accuracy on the bunker-laden Sandy Pines layout.

From there, they used expert iron and wedge play to set up short putts.

“We took a practice round here Thursday, and kind of the same plan we had last year,” coach Thomas said. “There are a few holes and number two is a good example. It’s a par-5, but it’s one where you don’t need to hit driver, and so they hit hybrid off the tee and put them in a good position. Both of them had eagle putts, and that’s one hole, and there’s a few others out there. Another par-4, number six, definitely don’t hit driver there; it’s an iron layup because it’s a 90-degree dogleg. Hole five as well, if you hit driver there, you’re going to be right in the middle of a fairway bunker, or you’ve got to thread a needle, and that’s hard to do on that hole. So there are a few holes out here that you have to do that.”

Bailey birdied No. 1 and the par-5 15th hole, a short par-5. She also had 14 pars and two bogeys.

“I was a lot more confident,” Bailey said when asked to compare her regional round with her sectional round. “And I just really felt good with my swing. … I was really swinging well with my three-quarters shots, and I was just hitting it really well on the range, and it just felt good.”

Coach Thomas called Bailey’s round a “textbook 72.”

“It’s really how you draw it up,” he said.

Ava Thomas had four birdies, two of which came on par-5s. She birdied the par-5 second hole and also had a one-putt birdie on No. 15. She also birdied Nos. 6 and 10.

She three-putted from eight feet on No. 16 and settled for a double-bogey but parred the par-3 17th and bogeyed No. 18.

“It was really good,” Ava Thomas said. “I just feel like the last three holes aged me. … I had a rough third-to-last hole and then on 17, I barely made my par putt. And then I had to punch out on 18, and I bogeyed.”

Moore’s two highest scores came on par-5s, however. She had a nine on No. 7 and a 10 on No. 15. It was a bittersweet moment as her teammates wanted Moore, the lone senior, to advance with the team.

“Payton played really well today,” coach Thomas said. “She just had a couple bad holes that really stung her. … It’s really tough because she’s a senior and to miss it now two times in a row by that much, it’s tough. She’s handling it well. I’ve given her three hugs now.”

After last year’s heartbreak, regional success was imperative.

“I felt like the whole season had led up to this, and I really thought the whole team was getting out,” Ava Thomas said. “The team’s been playing so well, and our team scores have been amazing, so I thought we could do it.”

And then there was that bittersweet feeling. An unforeseen disqualification to Munster’s No. 1 player for a rules violation – Munster’s No. 1 player had shot a 71 at her sectional – meant that Rochester was alive in the team race until the last player from the last group from Kankakee Valley finished.

“It was really disappointing,” Bailey said. “I’m super upset that we weren’t able to go as a team, and I would have really liked to be able to all go together, but it is what it is at the end of the day.”

Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel will host the IHSAA state finals, a 36-hole event to be held Friday and Saturday.

The IHSAA revealed Monday that booth Bailey and Thomas will tee off at 8:50 a.m. Friday. Bailey will tee off on the front nine, and Thomas will tee off on the back nine.

“Fortunately, I’ve played that course about three or four times as a player myself,” coach Thomas said. “She’s been on the course, but I doubt she remembers much. She’s been there for Drive-Chip-Putt but not on the golf course, so she’s familiar with what it looks like. Fortunately, I’ve got experience on the course, and I think going into it, right out of the gate, we’re going to have a good game plan.

“I coached Kinley (Lingenfelter) three years there as an individual. I coached Kristianna (Lingenfelter) there as an individual. I still have the notes from when they played. Lyle (Lingenfelter) always did a great job of putting together notes. He and I when we were scouting the course working together, and he put those together, so we’ll have good notes to start with and see if we need to adjust those. … We will have a very good game plan going in. I can guarantee you that. We’ll be prepared.”

Bianca Huizar

Huizar’s 78 approached her school record for 18 holes and came on a course known for its hazards and obstacles.

After shooting a 5-over-par 41 on the front nine, she started the back nine with a par on No. 10 and followed with a birdie on No. 11 before four straight pars on Nos. 12-15. She bogeyed Nos. 16-17 before a par on No. 18 and a nerve-wracking, emotional wait.

It came down to her and Dunham, who started a playoff on No. 1.

Dunham drove down the left side of the fairway. Huizar’s longer drive was down the right side of the fairway but landed in a divot. Dunham’s approach was inside seven feet while Huizar could not control her second shot from a bad lie and sailed the green.

A chip and a lag putt left Huizar within 10 feet for bogey, but she never attempted the putt. Dunham made it academic when she sank her birdie.

Mia McKaig

McKaig, a sophomore from Pioneer, shot a 97 to end her season. She parred No. 6 and had three straight pars on Nos. 12-14.

at Sandy Pines Golf Club, DeMotte, Saturday (par 72)

Penn 327, Kankakee Valley 346, Chesterton 355, Rochester 356, Lake Central 357, Valparaiso 366, Munster 377, South Bend St. Joe 378, LaPorte 381, New Prairie 399, Andrean 407, Logansport 440, Portage 456, Marquette Catholic 473, South Bend Adams (incomplete team)

PENN (327): Daniels 78, Wade 79, Biever 82, Tobin 88, (Norris 101)

KANKAKEE VALLEY (346): Rushmore 81, DeBoard 82, Van Loon 89, Rondeau 94, (Bakker 96)

CHESTERTON (355): McCoy 81, Soffin 84, Metcalf 93, Lawrence 97, (Driscoll 106)

ROCHESTER (356): Olivia Bailey (36-36) 72, Ava Thomas (37-39) 76, Payton Moore (45-46) 91, Lexi Haughs (55-62) 117, (Ella McCarter (60-64) 124)

LAKE CENTRAL (357): Urbanski 82, Sawyer 82, Huppenthal 92, V. Schilling 101, (P. Schilling 122)

VALPARAISO (366): Lee 87, Rossman 89, Magnusson 89, Cusson 101, (Calinski 101)

MUNSTER (377): Zangrilli 84, Schmidt 89, Stephan 95, Jeknic 109, (Ingersoll DQ)

SOUTH BEND ST. JOE (378): Dunham 78, Hull 99, Jeffrey 100, Schmeltz 101, (Hannewyk 111)

LAPORTE (381): Kubik 89, Riley 95, M. Menne 96, A. Menne 101, (McQuarters 115)

NEW PRAIRIE (399): Flagg 88, Bauman 101, Evans 101, Kole 109, (Snodgrass 117)

ANDREAN (407): E. Voliva 90, M. Voliva 97, Mori 103, Down 117, (White 121)

LOGANSPORT (440): Kay 84, Lundy 93, Barber 124, Graham 139, (Bradbury 144)

PORTAGE (456): Melendez 90, Bunton 106, Torres 127, Johnson 133, (Nelson 138)

MARQUETTE CATHOLIC (473): Najar 106, Shoppa 109, Barr 126, Thomas 132, (Rearick 143)

SOUTH BEND ADAMS: Swain 92, Fremeau 110, Dubie 143, Kricheff DNP, Kinney DNP

Individuals: BIANCA HUIZAR (WINAMAC) 78, MIA MCKAIG (PIONEER) 97, Garcia (Hammond Noll) 124, Hoernig (Boone Grove) 101, Kulak (Crown Point) 96, Noort (Crown Point) 94, McCormick (Elkhart) 98, Mowry (Hanover Central) 100, Wolf (John Glenn) 108, Montague (Knox) 108, White (Michigan City) 111, Tinervia (Mishawaka Marian) 101, Florkowski (Mishawaka Marian) 104, Carly Drone (Rensselaer) 96, Chevalier (Wheeler) 118

The Rochester girls golf team finished fourth out of 14 complete teams with a 356 at the Lake Central regional at Sandy Pines Golf Club in DeMotte Saturday. This marked the second straight year the Lady Zs finished fourth. Only the top three teams advanced. From left – Payton Moore, Ava Thomas, Lexi Haughs, team manager and eighth-grader Molly Moore, Ella McCarter, Olivia Bailey, Laynie Migonis.

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