With nine holes to play in the 4-A state golf championship, Emilia Migliaccio found herself at a crossroads.
She could’ve hung her head and just gone through the motions. Or she could’ve done what she did next.
Proving that the moment was not too big for the 14-year-old freshman from Athens Drive, Migliaccio rallied her way to a back-nine 34 to complete a roller coaster comeback and become the first female freshman since 1997 to win the 4-A individual title.
Starting the final round tied for the lead after an opening-round 73 on Pinehurst No. 6, Migliaccio unraveled early and made the turn in 6-over par 42 to hand Ardrey Kell’s Moon Cheong a temporary lead.
That’s when Migliaccio – ranked No. 1 in the state’s junior rankings – collected herself.
“On the ninth hole I told myself I needed to turn it around because it would be a better reputation if I had a good comeback instead of to just keep playing bad because I’m feeling bad for myself,” Migliaccio said. “It was really hard but I made a birdie on 10 and that just got me on a roll.”
Migliaccio followed that birdie with seven straight pars – including a brilliant up-and-down at the par-4 14th – and closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th after she smashed a three-wood to the front of the green on her second shot.
Migliaccio’s uncanny round of 42-34–76 was just enough to clip Cheong and Green Hope’s Meghan Symonds by two shots. Migliaccio became the third Athens Drive player to win the individual title in the last five years, joining Sarah Bae (2012) and Katherine Perry (2009).
“She got her nerves calmed down,” Athens Drive coach Dave Snyder said. “She didn’t start out great but it finally clicked for her and she came on strong. She reached deep and pulled out what she needed to and started smoking the back nine.”
While Migliaccio heated up, Ardrey Kell’s Megan Cullip, co-leader after round one, cooled down on her way to a second-round 84. Cheong shook off a couple early bogies on her way to a 76 and took the lead into the back nine until Migliaccio’s rally. Late charges by Symonds and Holly Springs’ Leigha Holt proved too little, too late.
Migliaccio became the first freshman to win the 4-A state championship since Northern Nash’s Ashley Leonard in 1997 when the tournament was open to all classifications.
“I felt pretty good coming in (to the tournament),” said Migliaccio, who captured the Trusted Choice Big I State Championship in July. “I just tried to play the best I could and whatever happened, happened and I’m happy it happened in a good way.”
Athens Drive captured the team title in 2008, 2009 and 2011, but Migliaccio was the lone Jaguar to qualify for states this year.
“Hopefully we can bring the team here next year,” Magliaccio said.
One Triangle area team that made everybody aware of its presence was Green Hope, which finished second overall to team champion Ardrey Kell. Spurred by Symonds’ runner-up performance, the Falcons continued their upward trend after a third-place showing a year ago to post their best finish in school history.
Symonds carded rounds of 77 and 74 on the par-72 layout to tie for second with Cheong. Green Hope trailed by 10 shots after the first round. Though overcoming that kind of deficit was improbable, the team of Symonds, Amanda Yannoni, Reilly Thomas, Sophie Riegel and Selena Turner closed strong to finish second.
Though three of the five Falcons improved on their first-day score, it wasn’t enough to overcome Ardrey Kell as the Charlotte school has now won three of the last four team titles.
Ardrey Kell opened with a score of 235 and closed with 242 and was one of just four teams not to improve on its round-one total at a tournament where cold, windy conditions on day one gave way to warm, sunny weather on day two. Green Hope recorded rounds of 245 and 244 to end 12 shots back and Pinecrest posted the lowest second-round score of the tournament – 241 – to jump to third place, five shots back of Green Hope and 15 better than fourth-place Holly Springs.
Symonds took home another piece of hardware to go along with her runner-up medal. The junior was the recipient of the Sportsmanship Award as voted on by coaches.
“We have a couple of young players and Meghan has been really supportive of growing the team and expanding its talent,” coach Donna Lerner said. “Number-one players historically separate themselves but Meghan didn’t. Meghan integrated herself. She’s exactly what you want for a coachable kid.”
Just one shot back of Symonds in solo fourth place was Holly Springs’ Holt (78-74). Sanderson’s Savannah Gowarty was fifth with a pair of 77s, while Pinecrest’s Savannah Thompson rallied with a second round-low of 72 to grab eighth place after opening with 84. Heritage’s Kendra Dalton (77-80) rounded out the Triangle players to crack the top-10.