By STEVE WILLIAMS
Youth was served in the state high school girls championships last fall. And that makes it easy to cast the favorites for this year’s title chase that begins with regionals on Oct. 22 and concludes with three state tournaments on Oct. 29-30.
Salisbury, led by freshman Isabella Rusher, rolled to a 33-shot margin in the state 1-A/2-A tournament last year and returns three of four starters.
Ledford, with a junior, two sophomores and a freshman making up a balanced team, captured the 3-A state title.
And Reagan High, paced by sophomore individual champ Victoria Allred, finished second in the highly-competitive 4-A class. The Raiders have the same leading threesome and will be gunning for the school’s first state team championship.
Salisbury has competed against larger schools all fall because of the absence of a 2-A league in its area and holds two wins over Ledford.
The Hornets haven’t missed a beat despite the loss of Lily Yatawara, now playing at Appalachian State. That’s mainly due to the arrival of freshman Grace Yatawara, the younger sister of Lily.
“Not much has changed,” Salisbury coach Dale Synder said, noting that Grace is averaging under 40 per nine-hole match this year. “We’re really playing well right now and we’re looking forward to getting back to the state tournament.”
He also has junior Madeline Hoskins and senior Brooke Smith back with plenty of experience. Hoskins also plays tennis but she has been able to work her schedule to miss only a few golf matches thus far.
Two freshmen – Caroline Parrott and Shelby Holden – provide some depth.
Northwood finished second a year ago but was depleted by graduation. But there are some good teams from the Northwest Conference. South Stokes, which didn’t qualify for the state a year ago, has led the league over East Surry and North Surry. The Sauras have a balanced line-up that includes Megan Mabe, Nicole Rogers, Brooke Kiger and Brooke Martin.
East Surry, which finished third in the 2011 states, has built around Madison Moore (ninth in the state last year) while North Surry, which finished sixth last year, has gotten strong play from Kasie Tolbert, who placed eighth individually last year.
Elkin, from the 1-A class, was fourth in the state a year ago and still has Mary Frances Hall (tied four fourth individually) and Annika Winebarger (11th).
Snyder said another challenge facing Salisbury is the switch from Longleaf golf course to Foxfire for the state tourney.
“We were real comfortable at Longleaf,” he said. “It seems like we’ve been there every year.”
The 3-A tourney moves to Longleaf, leaving Ledford coach John Ralls in a similar situation as Snyder.
Senior Morgan Brock, juniors Alexis Kershaw and Megan Holbrooks and sophomore Julia Carroll give the Panthers the same line-up that emerged with a four-shot win over Northern Guilford last year at Foxfire.
The Nighthawks lost their top two players to the college ranks but have still dominated the Mid-State 3-A Conference behind the play of Bryce Huntoon, Kendall Dobbins, Madison Cobb and Alex Berg.
Eastern Guilford has the league’s individual leader in Allison Killette and has also gotten strong play from Liza Oakes.
Rachel Jones is the Triad’s top returnee from last year’s state tourney. She finished fourth last year as a Southwest Randolph junior.
Reagan has posted the best numbers for a 4-A team in the Triad this fall, going as low as 109 while compiling an undefeated record.
It’s an experienced team with Allred, the defending state champ, and Hannah Craver, a senior, forming a solid 1-2 combo of players who play in numerous tournaments year-round. Allred won the Dogwood State Junior in August. Senior Chloe Sizemore is a strong No. 3 and freshman Sheridan Lee has added some depth.
To move up one step on the ladder and bring home the team title, Reagan will have to get past some familiar foes. Defending champ Athens Drive lost most of its line-up but is still driven by Sarah Bae, currently No. 1 in the state junior rankings.
Audrey Kell and Pinecrest finished third and fourth a year ago and both still have their key players.
Pinecrest might just be the favorite. In addition to returning standout Savannah Thompson (fifth in the state last year), the Patriots have added Pennsylvania transfer Gabby Weiss, who has posted several under-par scores in September. On top of that Pinecrest will be playing one of its home courses at states.
“It’s going to be unpredictable. I think if we played three events we could have three different winners,” Reagan coach Jay Allred said. “Pinecrest was already a good team and they’ve added Gabby Weiss. They’re going to be really tough and Audrey Kell brings everybody back.”
As far as teams from the Triad, Northwest Guilford and Greensboro Page have put together solid fall seasons thus far.
The Vikings have built a big lead in the Piedmont-Triad Conference behind the play of Amanda Wyrick, Emma Lea, Elise Wright and Maddie Haley. Wyrick recently shot a 4-under-par 31 to lead Northwest to a season-best 114 in a conference outing at River Landing at Sandy Ridge.
Page features the senior trio of A.B. Osteen and twins Erica and Anna Gallerani.