Notre Dame girls golf team will make first appearance at state tournament today
The Notre Dame Regional High School girls golf team that started in 2011 has officially arrived.
The Bulldogs will be making their first appearance as a team at the MSHSAA Class 1 state tournament when play begins today at Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield, Missouri, and the five-members and their coach are not quite a pure-bred pack.
There are the two two-time all-state anchors to the squad in juniors Sarah Bell and Allison Bray, and a precocious freshman in Taryn Overstreet, but then the other half starts to wander from the fairway.
For starters, Mark Moore is the first-year coach of the Bulldogs, who were led by longtime boys coach Jerry Grim for the program's first five seasons. Moore will start his fourth season as the Notre Dame boys volleyball coach this spring.
Two of his newcomers, juniors Haley Taylor and Olivia Williams played other sports in their first two years at Notre Dame. Taylor was a catcher on the JV softball team as a freshman and sophomore, while Williams played on the freshman and JV volleyball teams.
They've proven to be a good fit for a program that was missing just one score from the puzzle.
Since they've joined, the squad that has been setting school records since it first teed up in August, and leaving just one question.
"I get a lot of jokes from the guys that know coach Grim, the coach before me, like, 'What was he thinking, giving up the program?'" Moore said with a laugh. "And I said, 'Well, his loss my gain, I guess.'"
Grim also left assistant coach Emily Obergoenner, a 2008 Notre Dame graduate who played on the boys team before playing collegiately at Missouri State.
"My job is a lot easier here with Emily," said Moore, who played high school golf himself in Jerseyville, Illinois. "She's played college golf and knows the routine. Her knowledge and experience have been a tremendous help to me."
The team broke the school's nine-hole school record by three shots when it posted a 158 total in its first nine-hole dual match at Union Country Club in Anna, Illinois, defeating Anna-Jonesboro by 41 strokes.
A couple days later the 18-hole school record fell when the Bulldogs, led by a 2-under-par 69 by Bell, scored a 322 total at a seven-team tournament at Metropolis Country Club. The runner-up team, McCracken County, finished 20 strokes behind.
The scores have only gotten lower as the Notre Dame finished its season 15-0.
Bell shot a school-record 4-under 32 in a dual match against Farmington at Crowne Pointe Golf Club, where the school's nine-hole record was lowered to 151.
In their most recent outing, the bar on the 18-hole school record was lowered to 308 at Redfield Golf and Country Club in Eugene, Missouri. The score bettered John Burroughs, one of the top programs in the state, by 19 strokes as the Bulldogs claimed their first sectional title and first trip to the state tournament. The Bulldogs made a statement in finishing 1-2-3 in the individual standings. Bell earned medalist with a 72, followed by Overstreet at 73 and Bray at 74.
Overstreet, who is Bell's step-sister, has been playing golf for four years and shot a season-low score at sectional.
"She would be No. 1 on most teams in the state, and she plays No. 3 for us," Moore said. "And Haley and Olivia, as the season has progressed, have gotten better and better and better and help continue to lower the scores and everything else for us."
Taylor, a relative newcomer to the sport who went out for the golf team because she "needed new scenery," shot a career-best 89.
"I'm doing much better than I thought I would," Taylor said. "I never thought I'd be where I'm at right now."
She used to play occasional rounds with her mom but ramped up her intensity in the sport this past summer by competing in the Gateway Junior PGA series.
Bray, who started golfing at a young age and has competed against Bell at youth tournaments for years, said she half-jokingly trolls the halls of Notre Dame, talking up the sport in an attempt to recruit team members. Since her arrival with Bell as freshmen, Bray has been hopeful of a squad deep enough in talent to qualify for the team competition at the state tournament. The Bulldogs had three qualifiers their first year, when Bell finished third and Bray took eighth at the state meet, and last year the state entourage consisted of just the two sophomores, with Bell finished finishing fifth and Bray sixth.
When Taylor announced her intentions to play golf, Bray's dream became more tangible.
"I heard that Haley was going to play, and I got so excited," Bray said. "You can ask the pro here. That was the best day ever. And then [Haley] told me Olivia was playing, and I didn't believe her -- yet. And then I found out, and I got super excited that day, too."
Bray takes no credit for the sport transfers.
"They just decided to play on their own, but I got super-excited when they decided to join, and look where we're at now," Bray said.
Williams, who played junior golf at Dalhousie but stopped around age 10, blames "peer" pressure from a neighbor -- Moore -- in playing a role in rediscovering the sport.
"I kind of wanted to get into something new, so this summer I started getting back into golf, and then I figured out my neighbor is going to be the coach, and he kind of forced me into it, but I really like it a lot," Williams said. "It's really nice."
With a formidable top three and a respectable No. 4 score, the Bulldogs have served notice to teams around the state.
The Bulldogs were invited for a dual meet against two-time Class 1 state champion MICDS earlier this season at Boone Valley Golf Club and posted a 35-shot victory.
"That made so happy," said Bell, who shot an even-par 71 that day.
It's helped nurture the confidence in her that the team has what it takes to emerge with the low score at the two-day state tournament.
"Having a great team like we do, it makes me confident that we're going to win state," Bell said. "I'm not going to be overly confident, but I'm feeling good about this team."
Moore says John Burroughs and Pembroke Hill, the latter from the Kansas City area with defending state medalist India Gaume aboard, will be Notre Dame's primary competition at state. MICDS has moved up to Class 2.
"I think it's about a three-horse race," Moore said. "I certainly like our chances with our top three girls and the scores they've posted relative to other scores at sectionals around the state."