Come Monday morning, the Manhattan High girls’ golf team will more than likely be on the course trying to bring home a medal from the Class 6A state golf tournament at Garden City’s Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
While the high winds and the tough competition will likely be a difficult challenge, Manhattan coach Chris George just hopes the team arrives safely.
Up to this point, the team is just 1 for 2 on uneventful road trips in the past week after totaling their vehicle on the way to a practice round in Wichita last Sunday when a deer bounded into the road at just the wrong moment.
“Hopefully we don’t hit a deer this time,” George joked. “We still made it to our practice round, but we were a little bit late. It was kind of freaky when it happened, but the team overcame that.”
Once the team arrives safely, the Indians will be looking to improve upon last year’s seventh-place finish. One advantage Manhattan has is its regular-season schedule has allowed the team to play alongside each of the state’s four regional winners.
“The good news is that we’ve seen and competed against all the regional champions,” George said. “Washburn Rural many times, and we’ve played against Shawnee Mission East in Lawrence and at Wamego, and we played against Olathe Northwest at Lawrence and we saw Maize a couple times, at Hutchinson and at Salina.”
George thinks Rural is easily the favorite, but sees the opportunity for any team to come in and upset the field.
“I told the girls, we’ve been right there close with all of these teams,” George said. “Washburn Rural would have to be the favorite, they’ve just got so much depth. But there’s other good teams, too. And I told the girls, we’re a good team, if we can avoid blowup holes, like No. 8 at regionals.”
While most team struggled with that particular hole in Wichita, Manhattan was especially bad, averaging nearly eight strokes apiece on the par-5 hole. George thinks the team can avoid such challenges if they stick to the game plan and play with poise.
“We’ve been talking about playing with confidence,” George said. “It’s not match play. It’s you against the course.”
For each of the team’s four seniors, Hannah Devane, Anna Jackson, Cassidy Harper and Amy Levin, Monday’s meet in Garden City will be the last time they play golf for Manhattan.
“I want to end on a good note, so I want to play well and help my team to do what we’re capable of at this point,” Devane said. “Our team goal is to be in the top three, just to place somewhere in there.”
Fellow senior Anna Jackson agreed.
“It’s kind of sad thinking I’ve had four years leading up to this last tournament,” Jackson said. “I just want to put all my best work into it.”
Despite playing in the No. 4 spot all year, the team has fared best when Jackson posts a good score. The Indians managed to beat regional winner Maize in Hutchinson when Jackson posted her career-best score of 80. Fortunately for the Indians, Jackson said she plays best in windy conditions, which are typical out at Buffalo Dunes.
“I’ve shot all of my PRs this season in the wind and the rain and the cold, so I play better,” Jackson said. “I hit my drives straight, they don’t go up in the air, so they don’t get affected as much.”
For top two golfers Kylie and Kelsey McCarthy, Monday’s tournament won’t be their last. But the two know the team is capable of playing well if they all are on their game.
“There’s not that much pressure, you really shouldn’t feel a lot of pressure,” Kelsey said. “It’s just another golf meet. Even though it’s a lot bigger and more important, you shouldn’t feel any weight on your shoulders. Everyone’s expected to play their average and do their best. There’s no one we’re leaning on to make the team have a better score or anything like that.”
Kylie said the team is working just a little bit more on problem areas this week.
“I think we practice as usual, but we work a little harder than we do for other meets,” she said. “We work hard on our short game and on the driving range, and we work to make sure we don’t get disqualified.”
The team has been playing on windy days to make sure they are prepared for the issues that Buffalo Dunes presents.
“We’ve been trying to play as much as possible when it’s windy, since it’ll always be windy out there,” George said. “When it’s real windy, putting is affected as much as anything else, because you’re trying to maintain your stance and a nice, smooth stroke. When there’s a 40-mile an hour wind, that’s not that easy to do.”
George hopes the team will follow the conservative approach they’ve used all season.
“We always go into these tournaments with the idea that we don’t have to do anything spectacular - just don’t beat ourselves with stupid decisions or poor club selection, or even trying to hit the ball too hard,” he said. “We’re probably a more conservative approach than an aggressive approach, that’s just the climate of the team.
“We won’t do anything different at the state tournament, and if we do that, there’s no reason we can’t be somewhere near the top.”
The tournament begins Monday morning, with the first Indian set to tee off at 9 a.m., with the rest of the team following in 10 minute increments.