Preps notebook: Firebirds enter state golf meet with momentum; LHS individual ready for 3rd trip to state

photo by: Courtesy photo from FSHS girls golf

Free State's girls golf team posed with a runner-up plaque after placing second at its 6A regional meet at Prairie Highlands Golf Course in Olathe on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. The Firebirds qualified for the state golf tournament as a team for the third year in a row.

Free State senior Claire Covert was determined to get back to the state tournament for a third and final time in 2020.

As the only senior on the varsity squad, Covert helped lead the way for the FSHS girls golf team at the regional meet. Covert was one of four individuals to finish inside the top 11 for the Firebirds, who punched their ticket to state for the third consecutive year by claiming runner-up at regionals.

Free State will now be one of nine teams competing in the Class 6A state tournament, which is a two-day event slated to take place at Hesston Golf Course. The opening round will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, with the final round starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“It honestly means a lot,” Covert said of going to state in her final high school golf season. “I wanted to step up and lead the team and help get us there.”

Covert’s senior leadership proved to be pivotal for Free State in what was the team’s best outing of the season.

The Firebirds were originally aiming for third place at the Olathe West regional meet, knowing that the top three teams qualified for state. But it wasn’t long after the scores started to come in that they discovered they performed much better than that.

FSHS shot 355 as a team, which was the team’s best score of the season, and ended up being just five strokes behind eventual regional champion Manhattan High.

“I think the key was that we all went into this knowing that we wanted to play our best,” said sophomore Claire Berquist, who claimed fifth as an individual at regionals. “The first few (scores) that came in were pretty low, so I think it gave us all confidence to do our best and shoot a low score too.”

But delivering its best performance in the biggest meet to date was a sign of how much the Firebirds have grown over the last two months.

Berquist is one of three sophomore golfers — along with Marrah Spriggs and Emma Stammeyer — that has embraced bigger roles for the varsity squad this year. Junior Addyson Meadows has arguably been the team’s top golfer for much of her second season at FSHS.

It all led to some early growing pains, but Free State has appeared to hit its stride as of late.

“At the beginning, we had two new sophomores come up,” Meadows said. “But we have grown into a team super well and we are all one big family. We all have improved our scores a lot.”

Some of that growth took place in the summer. Meadows and Berquist both played in multiple tournaments in the offseason. Meadows is leading the team with an average score of 84.9, while Berquist is second on the team with an average score of 91.

Yet most of the development took place during the season, and it only really started after they got closer outside of golf. That chemistry started to blossom after the first couple tournaments, which led to players getting the most out of each other on the course.

“I think it’s super important,” Stammeyer said of the team’s chemistry. “Golf is a sport where you either have a good day or a bad day. I think having a strong supportive team really helps when you have those bad days.”

Fortunately for the Firebirds, though, it has been more good days as of late. Free State has finished in the top four in each of its previous three postseason events, which should give the team plenty of confidence entering the final competition of the year.

“Our team is very good,” Spriggs said. “We are very capable of doing very well if everyone is playing the best that they can.”

Lawrence High’s Rylie Hayden lines up for a putt on Sept. 16, 2019 at the Lawrence Country Club.

LHS individual ready for third trip to state

Lawrence High junior Rylie Hayden would have been disappointed if she hadn’t made it to the state golf tournament this year.

Sure, there were fewer individual qualifiers this year, but Hayden had made it to state in each of her previous two years. Hayden earned a third trip by netting ninth as an individual at the same regional meet that FSHS was at. She finished as the fourth-highest individual qualifier on the day.

“It would have been very disappointing if I didn’t qualify for my third year,” Hayden said. “My game overall has improved a lot. So I’m just really excited to see where I stand compared to the last two years.”

Hayden finished in 48th place during her first trip as a freshman. Last season, the state tourney was a two-day event that actually cut a number of golfers after the opening round. Hayden still made it to the second day and secured 37th place.

Every golfer is guaranteed both days this year, as there won’t be any cuts made after the opening round. But Hayden said that might be a disadvantage to her.

“I played better under pressure I think,” Hayden said. “I think it also helps that there isn’t that pressure, so I won’t be as nervous. I’ll just be able to play my game and have fun.”

It will be Hayden’s first time playing on the Hesston Golf Course. She will get a practice round completed on Sunday, but then it will count when she returns for the opening round on Monday.

Still, this two-day event is a chance for Hayden to show her improvement as a golfer.

Hayden has averaged a score of 100.1 in her eight rounds this year, which includes a season-best of 89 at regionals. Hayden’s drives were on point at the regional meet, affording her more birdie opportunities.

Hayden made the most of those chances, nailing putts on a consistent basis all day. That is the area she has improved the most, too, mostly thanks to her experience with it being her third year as a varsity golfer.

“It gives me some more confidence,” Hayden said of her career-best outing at regionals. “I definitely want to shoot that or even lower (at state).”

The opening round will begin at 10 a.m. Monday.

Tonganoxie knocks off 6A program

The Class 4A team emerged victorious in a battle with a Class 6A foe — and in convincing fashion. Tonganoxie’s football team handed Shawnee Mission East a 35-0 drubbing at THS Friday night.

The Chieftains, who are ranked No. 3 in Class 4A, improved to 6-1. The Lancers fell to 1-4 following their second consecutive defeat. Tonganoxie jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and never looked back.

Senior running back Tyler Bowden carried the ball 28 times for 150 yards and one touchdown. Senior quarterback Blake Poje was 13-for-17 for 193 passing yards and four scores. Senior Dallas Bond caught three of those touchdowns, finishing with four catches for 70 yards in the process.

On defense, senior Branden Martin paced the unit with nine total tackles. Junior Connor Bruch and Bond each finished with six stops, as well. Bond was credited with two sacks, while senior Tucker Isaacs recorded one sack. Martin also recovered two fumbles for THS.

Tonganoxie will end the regular season with a road trip to Ottawa next week.

In other area football news, Baldwin earned its first win of the year with a 23-20 road victory over Santa Fe Trail. It marked the Bulldogs’ first win since Sept. 21, 2018. Baldwin, which had two games canceled this fall, is now 1-4 and will host Osawatomie in the regular-season finale.

Eudora held its own against one of the top teams in Class 4A. EHS gave Paola (7-0, No. 2 in Class 4A) all it could handle in a 31-26 home loss Friday night. The Cardinals fell to 2-5, but it was by far their best showing of the season. Eudora will travel to Spring Hill next week.

Perry-Lecompton suffered its first loss of the season, dropping a 10-0 decision to Hayden (6-1, No. 3 in Class 3A) on the road Friday night. The Kaws (6-1, No. 2 in Class 3A) surrendered all 10 points in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter. PLHS will host Santa Fe Trail next week to close out the regular season.

Baldwin soccer hitting stride

After a shaky start to the season, Baldwin’s boys soccer program has appeared to hit its stride. The Bulldogs, who are now 9-4-1 on the year after a 1-3 start, earned a 3-0 win over Tonganoxie on Thursday.

Senior midfielders Grady McCune and Colby Zimmerman have led the offense for much of the year. McCune has 10 goals and 14 assists for a total of 34 points, which is the top mark in the state. Zimmerman has recorded seven goals and seven assists.

Baldwin’s defense has only allowed eight goals over the last 10 games. Junior Devin Prather, junior Michael Garber and first-year goalkeeper Drake Martin have led the way on that side of the field.

BHS had to replace seven starters from last year’s squad, but now has two games remaining in the regular season with a chance to be the top team in the region. Baldwin will host Midland Academy at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

In other area soccer news, Lawrence High dropped a 2-0 decision to Olathe West on Saturday to snap a four-game win streak. The Lions’ final win of that streak was a 3-2 overtime victory over Olathe West, in which Mason Anderson scored a pair of goals. Colin Sandefur also scored a goal in that win.

LHS (8-7) will travel to Shawnee Mission South on Thursday for the regular-season finale.


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