GRUNDY CENTER - The calendar hit May and Grundy Center has hit another gear.
It's that time of year - tournament time.
The Spartans have extended their run of consecutive trips to the Iowa Girls State Golf Tournament to eight years as they are making final preparations for the Class 1A meet starting Tuesday in Adel.
T-R PHOTO BY MARK PAWLAK
Members of the Grundy Center girls’ golf team hold the state-qualifier banner after winning the regional meet last week. The Spartans take part in the Class 1A Iowa Girls State Golf Tournament starting Tuesday in Adel. Pictured from left are Baylie Wrage, Josie McMartin, Heather Hook, Hillary Samo, Lindsay Freeman, Mackenzie Mackie and Madison Grineski.
Grundy Center's active streak of eight straight state tournaments is the second longest currently in Iowa, trailing only West Des Moines Valley as the Tigers are at the state meet as a team for the ninth consecutive season.
After a few bumps early in the year with a young team that doesn't have a senior on the roster, the Spartans shot their season-bests in each of the final three nine-hole duals of the season, going 186, 183 and 182 in the first week of May. Grundy Center finished second to Class 3A qualifier South Tama at the NICL West meet and followed with district and regional titles. The Spartans' 354 at regionals represents their season-best 18-hole total and was 34 shots ahead of a Pleasantville team that was previously undefeated and the 2011 2A state champion.
The Spartans enter state with a 45-5 season record.
"The feeling is great going to state again because we had a pretty young team this year," said Spartan junior Baylie Wrage. "We all needed to work hard, stay focused and have confidence."
Sophomore Hillary Samo led Grundy Center at regionals as she was the individual runner-up with an 82. Freshman Josie McMartin shot 89 for fifth in the individual race, while sophomore Lindsay Freeman tied for sixth with a 90. Wrage added a 93 for the team's fourth score. Junior Mackenzie Mackie shot 96 for the Spartans.
"Baylie Wrage's played two years at the state meet. Hillary's played at state, Lindsay's played and Mackenzie," said Grundy Center head coach Rick Schupbach, "and we had four girls this year out for the first time. It's kind of two different worlds there. It hasn't been an easy year. There have been growing pains and we've had a lot of things we've had to fight through. I think we're a stronger team as a result of that."
Defending champion Bishop Garrigan, which won last year's title by 62 strokes, is the clear-cut favorite for Tuesday and Wednesday, Schupbach said. He added that he is expecting a tremendous battle after that in a really strong field.
Hinton is back after finishing second last year, the Spartans were third, while HLV returns after landing fourth last season. Valley Community is another returning team and the Tigers were second to the Spartans at regionals after shooting 375 at Grundy Center's Town and Country.
"We've put it all together for tournament time," Schupbach said, "especially regionals. We'd seen glimpses of their potential at times during the season and at regionals they held at that level of play."
Adel's River Valley Golf Course was the site of the Spartans' last and 11th overall state championship as they won it all in 2010. Practice rounds at River Valley have gone well, Schupbach said, and it's a layout that fits the team well for the upcoming 36-hole tournament.
"The girls understand what they are capable of doing there and they believe in themselves," Schupbach said. "I think we're confident in our ability to play the course and that bodes well for us."
Wrage was the Spartans' No. 2 scorer last season at state with a 186 total to tie for 20th in the individual medalist race. She was the No. 6 player on the 2010 state championship team as a freshman.
Samo finished 24th at state last season at 188 (96-92).
"Baylie and Hillary have been the two stalwarts of the team," Schupbach said, "two girls we've counted on for solid scores every round."
The sophomore Samo is a two-time all-NICL West performer. She has been the runner-up medalist at both districts and regionals this month.
"Hillary's really elevated her game," Schupbach said. "Her confidence level is up, she understands how to manage a golf course better, she's thinking through her shots better and as a result, she's moving from a bogey golfer to a less-than-a-bogey golfer. It's hard to shave strokes when you get down to that level, but she's really doing it. Plus she's still so young in the game and has so much more potential and upside."
The freshman McMartin has been in the top five individuals at both districts and regionals, while the sophomore Freeman has stepped up her play with a fifth-place finish at districts and sixth place at regionals. Another freshman, Madison Grineski, will play in the No. 6 spot at state.
"We've been able to develop depth," Schupbach said. "At both districts and regionals we had four under 100 and there were five under 100 at regionals."
"That gives us five girls in the mix for four scores and we've grown as a team because of the depth we've developed."
This season marks the 21st appearance at the state championships as a team for Grundy Center and the 18th in 23 years under Schupbach. Earlier in the year, former Spartan state medalists Trina Dirks and Kylie Dirks were inducted as players into the Iowa High School Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
"We just want to play to the best of our ability at state," Samo said. "Our main goal was to get to state and now that we're there, it's just to have fun playing."
The Spartans' rise for tournament time gave them an opportunity to add another year to the list of state-qualifying teams sitting outside Town and Country Golf Club.
"Some people come here and think it's really intimidating," Samo said.
"It definitely gives us a comfort zone," she added. "I like seeing them."