Despite posting some high scores, three Free State High School girls golfers were pleasantly surprised to find out they finished in the top 10 Monday at the Class 6A Regional played at Alvamar Golf Course.
While the scores weren't great, they were good enough to lead the Firebirds to a first-place finish and a spot in the state tournament.
FSHS senior Genny Salvatore finished 15 strokes behind individual champion Kaylee Rudolph of Topeka West, who shot an 89, but Salvatore's 104 gave her second place. Junior Kelly Morris shot a 105 to place third, and senior Catherine Smith's 114 placed her ninth.
"I'm really excited for the girls," Free State coach Craig Hershiser said, explaining that while Free State has qualified individuals for the state tournament in the past, this is the first time the school has qualified as a team. "Any time you're the first to do something in your school, I think that's pretty significant."
Last week at practice, Hershiser told the Firebirds they were good enough to qualify if they played to their potential.
"I never felt like anybody had to go real low and shoot an 80 or something like that," he said. "I'm glad they recognized that opportunity and embraced it because sometimes it's hard to take that step."
Although Lawrence High's fourth-place finish at the event was not good enough to qualify for next week's state tournament - only the top two teams (FSHS and Topeka West) did - LHS seniors Erin Thimmesch (113, eighth) and Hilary Ferguson (115, 10th) qualified as individuals by finishing among the top five players who were not from Free State or Topeka West.
FSHS and LHS golfers made half of the top 10, but some of them were surprised to find themselves there at the end of the round.
Morris didn't think she was playing well enough to finish in the top three.
"I didn't even actually anticipate placing in the top 10," Morris said, "so I was super-excited."
Like her teammate, Salvatore was excited to find herself near the top of the leaderboard, but said things could have gone better.
"I was happy, but I would've been happier to play better golf," she said.
Thimmesch and Ferguson said they were cautiously optimistic while they were on the course.
"I was hopeful," Thimmesch said. "I got a birdie on one hole, so when that happened I was pretty excited, but there were some other holes that gave me a bit of trouble."
As for Ferguson, she felt better about a top-10 finish earlier in the day.
"I did better on the front nine than I did the second nine," she said. "I never really thought I was going to place, but I thought I was doing well."
One Lion who coach Mike Lewis thought would have a good chance of advancing to Monday's state tournament at Auburn Hills Golf Course in Wichita was senior Kalli McClure, who shot a 122 and finished tied for 16th with teammate Kylie Waite and two strokes behind fellow Lion Kathryn Lunte.
"She's a little disappointed and wishes she was traveling next Monday," Lewis said of McClure. "But we're really excited for Hilary and Erin. They both have worked hard the last couple of weeks and focused in and made the state tournament a goal for themselves."
Lewis said he thought the girls who didn't qualify were more disappointed that the time they've spent together as a team was over than they were about not qualifying for state.
The season will continue for all of the Firebirds. Sophomore Mallory Cox (117, 12th) and freshman Serena O'Connor (141, 26th) will join Salvatore, Morris and Smith at state.
"I'm so proud of everyone, and I think we're all going to have a lot of fun," Salvatore said.
Morris said the Firebirds will enjoy their prolonged season.
"It was kind of a relief to know we made it through this far," she said.
Hershiser said his team will have a light practice today, work on specific shots Wednesday and play regulation-style Thursday in preparation for the state tournament.
He might have as much fun as the players while preparing them for Auburn Hills.
"This team is really good about taking care of themselves. They're not a high-maintenance group," Hershiser said. "It's been a fun group to be around and, personally, I'm glad we've got another week to practice."