Geneva girls golf coach Rob DiPofi knew it was going to take a supreme effort for his Eagles to advance out of the Division I district tournament at The Legends in Massillon to next week’s state tournament.
Thanks to a frost delay and lightning quick greens, DiPofi was right, and his girls missed out on a trip to Columbus by eight shots, finishing seventh out of 16 teams with a 358.
Massillon Jackson won the event with a 313 followed by Magnificat (315), Highland (321), North Canton Hoover (343) and NDCL (351). Missing out on advancing by one shot was Canfield, who finished in sixth with a 352.
“I think the conditions made it challenging, the frost delay pushed it back an hour and they had obviously cut the greens and they were fast,” DiPofi said. “Factor that in with consistent wind most of the day and it made for some higher scores which played into our favor and gave us the opportunity to be able to do it (advance).
“I thought the conditions evened the field out.”
While DiPofi was disappointed his team wasn’t able to advance, his top player and 2011 Division I state champion Danielle Nicholson will get a chance to defend her title as she advanced as an individual with a 75 to lead the Eagles.
“I don’t think I’m as excited as last year, but it’s still a great achievement,” Nicholson said. “I knew coming into this the main goal is to qualify, not necessarily win the district. I think some of the girls playing for
teams they know were going to advance were able to be a little more aggressive. They might’ve hit driver off a tee where I’m hitting hybrid.”
Medalist honors at the event belonged to Massillon Jackson’s Cassie Pantelas, who shot a 71, and whose team took home the district title.
Following Nicholson for Geneva was Megan Lara with a 90, Cami Dodge (95) and Megan Kern (98). Nicole Grimmett also played and shot a 102, but only the top four scores qualify for a team’s total score.
For the Eagles, their inability to take advantage of the higher-than-anticipated scores on the board, can be chalked up to short game struggles.
Nicholson admitted the greens were difficult as she racked up 38 putts, an unusually high number for her.
“I missed a one-foot putt on the last hole, I hit 16 greens in regulation but I had five three-putts so I was very disappointed in my putting,” she said. “The practice green was a different speed than the regular greens. I think because of the frost delay, they didn’t have a chance to cut that and the other greens were very fast so I think that affected me a little bit.”
DiPofi agreed that play around the greens was an issue for his team.
“I would say the short game let most everybody down and most would readily admit that,” he said. “If the chipping and putting would’ve been shored up, that’s maybe two strokes off each player, that’s eight strokes and that puts us in mix. That would’ve given us the opportunity to do something I thought we had a minimal chance of doing coming in but it turned out to be more than minimal.”
Nicholson, for her part, struggled out of the gates, bogeying the first two holes then bogeying the eighth. The sophomore sensation would starting picking up strokes on the back nine, though, carding birdies on the 10th, 13th and 14th holes to get back to even.
But a finish of bogey, bogey, par, bogey sent her back to three-over par.
“She made a miraculous save for par on 17 with a tremendous chip,” DiPofi said. “I’m pretty sure she’d say she threw some shots away and didn’t putt as well as she’d like, but she’s pretty motivated already about going back (to state). She’s a highly motivated kid and she wants to do well.
“I would be willing to bet you she’s going to expend a lot of energy working on her short game and putting.”
DiPofi was right, Nicholson did say she left a few shots out there.
“I think this season has been very successful for our team, but it would’ve been ever better if we had been able to qualify, we were so close and I can think of seven shots myself that I could’ve taken off to help get us there,” she said.
Her coach also believed that a 22-3 record with a return to the district tournament was a success for he and his Eagles.
“For Megan and Cami to be part of a 20-win team three years in a row is great and a nice way for Nicole to end her career,” he said. “For the younger ones like Kern and (Abbey) Scoville, it gives them a taste of what things can be like and a little motivation for next year. I want to emphasize, none of them tried to miss a putt or make an errant shot, no blame is being cast on anyone.
“I kind of explained to them that we had an opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it. But that also doesn’t take away from what we did the rest of the season.”