INDIANAPOLIS — There were nerves. New Palestine senior Mackenzi Black tried to shake them on the driving range early on Saturday morning, but the ball wasn’t jumping well enough off her club to calm her concerns.
In the past, Old Oakland Golf Club’s difficult setup proved an equalizer for the Dragons’ top golfer. With water hazards, sand traps and tight fairways throughout, Black recalled taking a nine on her first hole a few months ago during a humbling round.
“I’ve never played good at this course,” Black said. “I was a little worried, but you basically know how you’re going to play after the first couple of holes. I parred the first two.”
Two became three, followed by a birdie and another par. Black tallied nine pars and six birdies overall to shoot a career-best 70 at Old Oakland, earning sectional medalist honors and leading the Dragons to a fourth straight team title.
“It’s phenomenal. We’ve been here a lot of years, and that’s as low as I can remember,” New Palestine head coach Gregg Greene said.
Last year, Black, an IPFW recruit, finished with an 85. She came in with an 81 as a sophomore. Her 1-under par 70 marked a school record, but the Dragons were more than one-dimensional in their quest at four.
Annaliese Fox, last year’s sectional medalist as a freshman at 74, fired a 77 on Saturday for the day’s second-best score, and four Dragons finished under 100 to give the team a season-low 333.
Greenwood was second at 387 and Greenfield-Central was third at 394 with the three best team scores securing a berth to this Saturday’s Lapel Regional at Edgewood.
“We were counting on those two being in the 70s somewhere. I thought, especially after the front, they were even par when you combine the two,” Greene said. “Annaliese got off to a little bit of a rough start on the back, but then she held it together and started parring out from that point.”
Fox finished 6-over par with 11 pars and one birdie to overcome six bogeys. Izzy Gray, a fellow sophomore, shot a 92, while freshman Abby Belgin had a 94. Senior Regina Olsen added a 106.
Despite playing a practice round at the neutral course earlier in the week, Greene and the team didn’t come in overly confident. Even as the scores continued to roll in late into the evening during the eight-hour marathon, they kept close eyes on each of the 11 teams.
“You can never take it for granted. It’s a crazy game, and on any given day you might have someone shoot their personal best and if they can have some teammates do the same thing, they can surprise a lot of people,” Greene said. “I’ve seen weird things happen out there before.”
What he’s never witnessed, however, were the numbers printed on the leader board next to his players’ names.
The Dragons’ 333 was the best score posted during a girls golf sectional event held at Old Oakland since Cathedral’s 333 in 2005. New Palestine’s 18-hole record low is 324 from 2014 at regional when the team advance to the state finals. Their previous sectional-low was 341, also in 2014.
“I was very proud of our new kids playing today with the poise that they demonstrated, especially Abby, our freshman. She played a fantastic round and was confident all day,” Greene said. “Regina rebounded from the front and played well on the back.”
Black relied on her short game and topped Abby Poole’s 73 recorded in 2014 during the New Castle Sectional to become the program’s all-time best postseason performer.
“It was my irons. I hit 16 out of 18 greens. I made a couple of long putts,” Black said. “I bogeyed six and seven back-to-back, so I was a little worried. But I made a long putt on eight and nine to birdie those two.
“Our team shot way better than we have all year. I was so shocked, and this is the hardest course we’ve played all year except for Prairie View.”
This season, the Dragons registered a 351 to win their third straight Hoosier Heritage Conference title. They shot a nine-hole 174 to win a fourth consecutive Hancock County championship.
They posted a 348 to win the New Palestine Invitational last month, carried a 365 at the Connersville Invitational and had a 352 at the Lapel Bulldog Classic. They opened the year with a 406 at Prairie View in Carmel for the State Preview Meet.
“Coach took us out here and we practiced, and we did fine, and I think it helped us to see the course,” Fox said. “Having Abby Belgin coming in as a freshman, so nervous, playing in the three, and shooting a 94, I was so proud of her. I prayed so much for our girls to do so well today.”
The next step is regional where Greenfield-Central will join the Dragons. The Cougars matched their 394 shot during their runner-up placement at the HHC meet at Hawk’s Tail to take third just seven strokes behind Greenwood.
“I was pretty nervous for most of the day,” Cougars head coach Russ Wiley said. “They did well. It’s such hard course, and it usually takes a while to adjust. Since I’ve been coaching, you typically make a jump on this course from freshman year because you know what to expect.”
Lindsey McCord, a senior, applied what she learned the past few season by shooting a team-leading 81 for third best overall. As a junior, she carded a 98 and finished at 99 two years ago.
Caroline Gibson had a 97, while fellow freshman Haley Hoagland turned in a 98. Juniors Phoenix Breese and Rose Gerard had a 122 and 118, respectively.
“We shot 394 last week at our course, and I thought we could be there again,” Wiley said. “It worked out. I don’t think we’ve gone two straight years since I’ve been head coach to move on to regional, so that’s a nice achievement.
“Lindsey came up huge today. I’m pretty sure that’s the best score anyone has ever shot for me on this course.”
Mt. Vernon was sixth with a 425, improving by 71 strokes since their first 18-hole tournament this season. Junior Ava Hampton narrowly missed the individual regional cut by one stroke with a 98.
Pendleton Heights’ Kiersten Maxwell secured the final spot with a 97 with the top-three individuals on a non-qualifying team advancing.
Team Scores (top-three advance): New Palestine 333, Greenwood 387, Greenfield-Central 394, Pendleton Heights 397, Shelbyville 424, Mt. Vernon 425, Triton Central 458, Knightstown 459, Greenwood Christian 467, Eastern Hancock 476, Southwestern (Shelbyville) 571
Individuals Advancing Without a Team: Danielle Tinsley (PH) 91, Daisy Hoffman (K) 92, Kiersten Maxwell (PH) 97
Top-Five Individuals: Mackenzi Black (NP) 70, Annaliese Fox (NP) 77, Lindsey McCord (GC) 81, Maecee Terhune (GW) 81, Danielle Tinsley (PH) 91
Eastern Hancock: Lucy Cochard 110, Daly Pelger 121, Jocelyn Duncan 118, Chloe O’Neal 127, Isabella Parker 142
Greenfield-Central: Lindsey McCord 81, Caroline Gibson 97, Haley Hoagland 98, Phoenix Breese 122, Rose Gerard 118
Mt. Vernon: Ava Hampton 98, Morgan Hear 109, Lily Hampton 110, Savannah McKemie 108, Hailee Fulton 123
New Palestine: Annaliese Fox 77, Mackenzi Black 70, Izzy Gray 92, Abby Belgin 94, Regina Olsen 106