PORTAL - In just a few short years, the Portal girls golf team has gone from a brand new program to a local power.
The Lady Panthers capped their second consecutive area championship two weeks ago and are now in preparation for the Class A state tournament which will be held at Highland Walk Golf Course in Royston May 18.
“We’re very happy to be where we are right now,” Portal coach Jay Reddick said. “Last year, just making it (to state) was a big goal for us. Making it back again this season was something we thought was definitely within our reach and we hope to make that the standard every year.”
If the Panthers have their sights set on making a run at the state title, they’ve gone about it in the right manner. By winning their area, the Panthers automatically qualified for the state finals and didn’t have to compete in sectional competition.
Portal has also been gaining momentum, turning in great performances when the pressure was on. Competing in the area tournament at Folkston Golf Club, three Panthers posted career lows.
The quartet of Kieli Anderson, Layne Clark, Caitlyn Girardeau and Faith Reddick have been the driving force for two middle school titles and the two PHS area winners and don’t seem to be finished yet.
“We’ve gotten a lot of practice in over the last couple of weeks,” Jay Reddick said. “The girls are at team practices and going out on their own. I expect us to be ready for state.”
Golf is a mental struggle, but the state finals will also be a physical challenge. In addition to the tournament encompassing 18 holes – where many region matches go for just nine – the course at Highland Walk features some steep terrain.
When not on the driving range or putting green, the Panthers have been running up and down stadium stairs in hopes of building up their endurance and staying strong throughout the competition.
“I have a lot of faith in this team,” Jay Reddick said. “I called up Victoria Bryant State Park (site of the state finals) four months ago to book a cabin for the team. They came through to get here and now we’re excited with what we can accomplish against the best teams in the state.
SEB girls also headed to state
Whereas Portal’s returning roster had already shown the ability to make it to the season’s final week, Southeast Bulloch had no idea what to expect in 2015.
After saying goodbye to a tenured squad last season, the Lady Yellow Jackets played through the spring with an all-freshman roster of Marleigh Cooper, Chyann Hoyle, Morgan Olliff and Brooke Peterson.
There were growing pains along the way, but the squad turned a corner late in the season, finishing as runner-up in its area.
“Everyone has been getting better all season long,” SEB coach Aimee Civalier said. “I’m very proud with the work that everyone has put in. It’s tough learning new courses and figuring out how to approach each unique rounds. Maybe it helps that our girls are too young to get caught up in how tough it can be.”
All of the Jackets are playing above their heads, but Cooper has been an emerging star throughout the season. Cooper fired an 81 to claim the low medalist honors at the area competition and will now lead her team into the state championship.
Southeast Bulloch will travel to Roswell as Horseshoe Bend Country Club hosts the Class AAA finals May 18.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.