ELMA — The culmination of a season’s worth of hard work, dedication and a lot of laughter and fun came to a successful end for the Elma High School girls golf team on Wednesday afternoon at The Home Course in Dupont.
Fielding three golfers in the final round, the Eagles secured the school’s first-ever state 1A girls golf team championship over Cascade Christian, 48-17. Two of Elma’s three golfers — sisters Alexis and Lauryn Keating — finished second and third, respectively, in the individual field.
The accomplishment was not just one year in the making, but four years of work for the seniors Jenna Powers and Alexis Keating, who got to play her final high school season with her freshman sister, Lauryn.
“It has meant a lot,” said Alexis, who will attend the University of Colorado on a golf scholarship in the fall. “I’ve worked very hard my entire life in golf. It is what I love to do, year round, since I’ve been tiny, tiny. This year, it has been particularly enjoyable and I’ve loved every second playing on the same team with my little sister. It is a great end to my high school golf career. I still can’t find the words how happy I am.”
The journey for Elma’s golf team began this season as an incomplete team — the Keatings, Powers and fellow senior Taj Scott. During the regular season dual meets, the Eagles were at times one golfer shy of a complete team and didn’t win a single match.
“In one match, all we needed was for someone to shoot a 100 (over nine holes) for us to win the match,” Powers said.
“It was frustrating, because we knew we could win matches,” Lauryn Keating added. “To win (the district title) and state, that makes up for it. We knew that we had a really good shot at that after the regular season.”
At the District IV 1A tournament at Capitol City Golf Course in Lacey, Elma’s four golfers all qualified for the second day, with the Keatings and Powers in position to move on to the state tournament.
The first day of play also gave Lauryn Keating something to hold over her older sister — the overall lead. The rivalry between the two sisters is intense and fun-loving, making the overall lead possession a surprise for the freshman. Alexis overtook Lauryn in the second round to win the district individual title and Elma easily won the district team title.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Lauryn said. “(Alexis) has been playing in the No. 1 spot all season in all of the matches, but I never really beat her in a match. Sometimes we would tie or I would be one or two strokes behind, but never beat her. On the first day of districts, I beat her. It was crazy.
“There’s always been a rivalry between me and Alexis — look who drove further, look who won the hole,” she added. “During my eighth-grade year, I couldn’t wait for this sprint, I was so excited to play with Alexis. My dad (Mark) mentioned to me early on that we would have a chance to do something really big for the school that hadn’t been done before.”
The Keating sisters are veterans of the summer and year-round youth golf tournaments across the Northwest and the West Coast, giving them years of experience on the golf course. For Powers, the state tournament was her third appearance, giving her insight to what to expect. Together, the trio of Eagles were experienced enough to handle a rough two days at the state tournament on The Home Course.
“I’ve thought they’ve been crazy at times, but it has been really fun (to play with them),” Powers said of the Keating sisters. “When I play with other girls in groups, they always bring up the Keating girls and how good they are. They are. During practice, I’ve just stood there and watched straight, perfect drives each time. I felt a little bit jealous at times.”
“You’ve never admitted that,” Alexis added as all three girls laughed.
“It has been really fun, even though they are crazy,” Powers said.
“We like to have fun and you have to make it fun,” Alexis said. “You can’t be serious all of the time.”
Lauryn Keating agreed. “We’ve become so close by the end of the season as a team, like a big, happy family. I really liked that.”
At state, the first day was played under extremely wet and windy conditions. Add the fact that the course was set up to play long and the challenge of surviving the course, let alone the cut, was daunting.
For Powers, she stressed about making the cut after a few bad holes. For Alexis, she was in competition with Goldendale’s Bree Wandersheid for the overall lead. For Lauryn, she was in her first state tournament and was taking it one shot at a time as if it was just another tournament on the schedule.
“There was a torrential downpour,” Alexis said. “The winds would then pick up and it was two-club winds. For us, that was a really big deal. I’ve only played in conditions like that a few times. You have to be sure about your club selection, trust in what you can do and go for it. You can’t second-guess yourself about anything.
“Yeah, I loved (the course),” she added. “Even if I had to get up-and-down, I wasn’t bothered (by the longer length). I like the challenge and it was a lot of fun.”
Alexis Keating finished second to Wandersheid for the individual title, but Lauryn took third and Powers made the second day and finished tied for 17th overall. The combined effort made the team competition a runaway for Elma.
For Alexis Keating and Powers, as well as Taj Scott, this was their senior season, the perfect end to their high school careers. For Lauryn Keating, she’ll be the only returning golfer to defend the title, bring some pressure to her and a quest for the next season.
“I’ve always tried to do my best to make expectations for myself, personal goals,” Lauryn said. “I’ll have to get at least three others to play, so I have to do some recruiting. I have one so far, maybe.”
The team added thanks to Rich Walker, the head professional at Oaksridge Golf Course, as well as Michelle and Mark Keating for their help this season. Michelle Keating was the head coach of the team and “you couldn’t ask for a better coach,” Alexis said.
“We had an awesome foundation of people helping all of us out this season, to help us accomplish this,” Alexis said. “I just want to say thanks, because without them, we can’t do it.”
Rob Burns is a Daily World sports writer. He can be reached by phone at (360) 537-3926 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.