By STEVE WILLIAMS
The skies were sunny and only a slight breeze was stirring at Foxfire Resort when Salisbury arrived for the state 2-A/1-A championship the last week in October. The other 11 teams, however, found temperatures in the 40s, blustery wind and a misty overcast.
Or at least it seemed that way as the Hornets rolled to a 60-shot margin of victory and wrapped up their second consecutive title in one of the most dominant performances in NCHSAA girls golf history.
“We just did what we do on a daily basis,” said Salisbury coach Dale Snyder. “We didn’t let the bad conditions or the pressure of the big stage affect us and it appears it affected the other teams.”
The Hornets’ first round 246 provided a 29-shot cushion over Croatan and they were even better on day two, shooting 244. Hendersonville slipped past Croatan and claimed second place with 284-266.
The supremacy didn’t end with the team race. Sophomore Isabella Rusher fired the tournament’s best two scores (75-71) and won by 12 shots over North Surry senior Kasie Tolbert, who posted a pair of 79s. It was Rusher’s second straight individual title.
“To shoot even par the second day in those conditions was amazing,” North Surry coach Daniel Johnson said of Rusher. “I literally could not feel my feet out there.
“I was thrilled with the way Kasie played. But on each nine-hole segment, one disastrous hole pushed her beyond what her potential was. She could have won that tournament.”
Tolbert ended three shots ahead of Salisbury freshman Grace Yatawara, who was third with 78-83. Elkin’s Mary Francis Hall was fourth with 76-86. The only other Triad area player to place in the top 10 was East Surry’s Madison Moore, who tied for seventh with 82-87.
“She absolutely dominated the field,” Snyder said of Rusher. “There’s not a whole lot I need to say. She’s just that talented and that good.”
Rusher, who won the N.C. Junior Championship in June, was mentally prepared for the weather.
“My mindset wasn’t that the weather’s going to be bad and this isn’t going to be any fun,” she said. “It was to go out and try to shoot the best score I possibly can and focus on my game and not the weather.”
While Salisbury pretty much had the team championship in the bag after the first day, Rusher faced a strong challenge. Her 75 produced only a one-shot lead over Elkin’s Hall.
But Rusher took command early and never let up. She balanced four bogeys with four birdies on her 37-34 card, highlighted by back-to-back curling birdie putts on the back nine.
“I played pretty consistently,” Rusher said. “I hit my drives well, I hit my irons really well and my putting was probably the best. I saved so many 5-, 6- and 7-footers for par.”
Her 30-foot birdie on the par-5 12th was the highlight.
“It was a hard-breaker to the left,” she said. “I didn’t take much time. I got up there and hoped for the best and it went it. That was pretty exciting and I birdied the next hole too. Back-to-back birdies – that doesn’t happen often.”
She finished off her round with a birdie at No. 17 and a par at 18.
A team hug followed just off the green.
“We all knew we could win,” Rusher said. “We won it last year so we were pretty confident. I didn’t have any worries about my teammates. They were there to back me up and support me. I love being a team.”
The team aspect is what separates high school golf from the numerous junior tournaments available year round.
“This is the only time they get to play team golf,” Snyder said. “Certainly, we’re happy for Isabella but this was about the team and what we accomplished as a group makes it all the more sweet.”
The Hornets also got significant contributions from junior Madeline Hoskins and senior Brooke Smith. Both posted 93 in the first round to provide the third counting score and Hoskins came back with a 90 on day two and ended 16th. Smith struggled to 106 in the second round but still tied for 33rd among the 78 players in the field.
The Hornets won back-to-back state titles in 2005 and 2006 when they were also grouped with 3-A schools. After finishing second in 2009 and 2010 the Hornets are back on top two years running. Nobody will be surprised if the Hornets run off several more in a row.
They’ve got a pipeline of talent that begins in the early grades.
“We’re fortunate we’ve got a good feeder system here,” Synder said. “Brian Lee (head professional at Warrior Golf Course) runs the Salisbury Academy golf program and he does an outstanding job. They come to us ready to play. Success breeds success. The younger girls aspire to be part of the program.”
Five former Hornets are currently on college rosters – Lauren Smith and Lily Yatawara (older sisters of current team members) are both at Appalachian, Madison Kennedy is at Catawba, Allison Lee plays at Winthrop and Catherine Parks is at Centre College.
Salisbury Academy is a private school that runs through the eighth grade. While not all of the players arrive from that route, many do.
“I’ve said many times that you need to be talking to Brian Lee and not Dale Snyder,” he said. “I’m just here reaping the rewards. I’m just trying to keep it all together and follow what he started.”
Snyder has been there from the beginning of the program some 11 years ago.
“The first three years were pretty rough. But it really sprung into motion and here we are now.”