As expected at a tournament, drama was unfolding on the back nine. It had nothing to do with the team championship, however, and everything to do with which Hornet would earn medalist honors.
“Ultimately our job was to win a team state championship and hopefully one of our girls wins the individual,” Salisbury coach Dale Snyder said. “Going into Day 2, we kind of knew who it was going to come down to. We knew the team title was in hand. That was fun to watch, that back nine with those two girls going after it.”
The Hornets romped to a 42-shot victory over Avery County to win their fourth straight 1A/2A state women’s championship. And after a fierce battle, a new individual champion was crowned as junior Grace Yatawara held off senior Isabella Rusher by two shots. Rusher won the tournament as a freshman and sophomore, but trailed her teammate by four shots after the first round on the Red Fox Course at Foxfire Golf and Country Club.
“They’re teenagers and they’re going to go for it,” Snyder said. “Isabella was throwing darts, absolutely on fire, she just had a hard time getting the putts to drop. Grace did her thing, made pars – you can’t fault either one of them.”
The duo dominated the 78-player field. Yatawara finished at 145 (72-73) for a 1-over-par effort on the 5,703-yard layout. Rusher posted 147 (76-71). The next closest individual was Avery County’s Paige Church at 18-over. Only nine women were better than 32-over.
“Both of us wanted to win as a team,” Yatawara said. “There was some pressure, but I tried not to worry about the individual title as much. I just tried to make sure I played a solid round. I wanted to make sure I was proud of both of my days and didn’t regret anything.”
Rusher already had her dream of winning four championships – a goal she set before entering high school – dashed with last season’s runner-up showing. This year, she wanted another team title and to simply enjoy being a senior.
“I was really focused on having fun and making memories, and I did,” Rusher said. “High school golf has always been less stressful than tournaments outside. I have tons of friends I’ve made over the course of the last four years.”
Still, with another individual title in sight, Rusher was ready to attack the course during the second round. She opened with a string of birdies, but saw several more chances to trim the lead just evaporate. Knowing she needed a birdie on the final hole to tie, Rusher made an aggressive play and ended up with a bogey for the final two-shot margin.
“Losing is always a disappointment, but Grace has worked so hard and she deserved it. I was proud of her,” Rusher said. “She represents Salisbury High, and to be on a team with her is phenomenal.”
Snyder stressed that “losing” is a relative term for a performer like Rusher.
“Isabella was part of four team championships, two firsts (individually), two seconds – that’s a tough mark to beat, no matter what you do,” Snyder said.
With Yatawara and Rusher playing so well, the Hornets still needed a third player to complete the team score. That honor went to junior Shelby Holden, who tied for 36th place overall with rounds of 107 and 101. Holden’s second-round score even included a two-shot penalty on a “better safe than sorry” move involving moving her ball-marker on the green.
Snyder had been hoping to have some support for Holden at the championship, but the Hornets’ fourth golfer – who played 3-4 with Holden all year – had a tough regional and did not qualify. Junior Caroline Parrott will, however, be needed next season, when Salisbury is down to just three golfers.
For a team that has won six championships in 10 years, next season will be an interesting challenge. Rusher signed with the University of Richmond to continue her golf career. She also considered Dartmouth and N.C. State.
“I can’t wait to be there and improve my game and see what is in store,” Rusher said.
Yatawara was destined for college golf as well and ended up solidifying her plans in the middle of the state championship. East Carolina coach Kevin Williams walked all 18 holes watching Yatawara in the first round. She planned to tell him after the championship, but couldn’t wait and called him with her commitment that night. It was a doubly great day for the Pirates’ leader, who also had heard from 3A medalist Siranon Shoomee of Lee County that Monday.
“Coach Williams had been watching me since I was in eighth grade. I really like him a lot,” Yatawara said.
So, can the Hornets win another championship in Snyder’s 14th year? Yatawara will be as good a No. 1 as any team could want, and Holden and Parrott already are practicing for next year. Snyder will count on all three seniors and hope a few other golfers appear from somewhere to continue the tradition – or at least the program.
“The well’s running a little dry,” Snyder said. “It’s very possible the team next year could be three seniors and that’s it. We could win with that team and then just not have a team.”