Ardrey Kell girls golf coach Bart Whitney knew he had a talented team when the season began, but figured their inexperience and youth would catch up with them at some point this season.
After an undefeated regular season, a conference title and then a N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A Western Regional championship on Oct. 22, Whitney expectations were readjusted.
Still, it was exam week and the Knights had just one player – junior Megan Cullip – who had ever played even a single hole on the NCHSAA’s biggest stage and at one of the state’s most esteemed venues in Pinehurst No. 6.
But they plugged away, finding time to do homework while coming up with a plan on how to play their game and attack the golf course.
Their plan certainly worked.
“On Monday (Oct. 28), every girl did what I’d say was a perfect job of following the plan and they did it well,” Whitney said. “They played the golf course better than everyone else.”
Cullip showed her experience and leadership, firing a first-day 73 to tie for the Day 1 lead. Whitney said her well-timed round was the first time the captain had played in competition without making anything higher than a bogey and her teammates followed suit.
Freshman Moon Cheong shot a steady 75 to earn third place after the first day of action. Sophomore Alexis Whitney shot an 87 and freshman Sarah Zimmerle shot a 95 for a Day 1 team total of 235.
“If you go and look through the years, there aren’t too many scores in the 230s,” Whitney said.
The 235 was good enough for a 10-shot lead after the first day.
“It’s fair to say, because of our youth, the girls were nervous on Day 1 and probably more so on Day 2,” Whitney said. “But that being the case, they represented themselves extremely well. And while they may have been nervous on the inside, they didn’t show it on the outside.
“Day 2 we kind of started our day all over again.”
Zimmerle started it off with a 101, followed by Whitney who shot an 82, her career lowest in-competition score.
“Alexis was solid all day,” Whitney said of his daughter. “She handled adversity extremely well, played smart and executed great shots.”
The rest was up to the frontrunners.
Cheong followed up her 75 with a 76, for a two-day total of 151 – good for a second-place tie and only two shots off the individual championship.
Cullip shot an 84 playing with the added pressure of going out in the final group.
“We took some chances with Megan. Some worked out, some didn’t,” Whitney said. “She handled it well, she’s a great captain and leader of the team.”
The end result was a 12-shot win and another NCHSAA state championship – the Knights second consecutive and third in three years – but to Whitney it was more than that.
“The victories are nice, and to say that you’re a champion is nice, it really is,” Whitney said. “But whether we would’ve won or not, that doesn’t define this year or this team.
“To me it’s a footnote – it’s a really big and fantastic footnote – but all the girls understand they did a lot of really awesome stuff this year so it’s not necessarily us being champions. Being called champions is great, but if we didn’t win they’d have nothing to hang their head’s about nor should any of the other teams.”