By STEVE HANF
Tony Alcon watched his Athens Drive girls soar to new heights the last two years.
The Jaguars flew so high, in fact, that the coach could only marvel at the depths of despair experienced at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A Championship on Nov. 1.
“To be heartbroken over a second-place finish in the state, I’ll tell you what – you can’t win it every time,” Alcon said he told his girls following their final round at Pinehurst No. 1. “It was strange. I never thought I would be a part of a team that I would feel disappointed at finishing second in the state.”
Charlotte school Ardrey Kell ended the two-year championship reign enjoyed by Raleigh Athens Drive, carding rounds of 241 and 236 on the par-72, 5,713-yard layout for a team score of 477. Athens Drive, which led by a single shot after Monday’s first round, finished at 240-248 – 488. That total was good for a six-shot margin over Forsyth County school Reagan (245-249 – 494), which was the only other team below 500 among the 13 schools from the 4-A ranks to qualify.
Ardrey Kell’s breakthrough came one year after the Knights watched Athens Drive rally for a title. Last fall, Kell owned a six-shot lead following the first round only to watch the Jaguars win head-to-head by 17 shots in round two.
“We had the curse of the first-day leaders,” Alcon said. “The last two years we had to come from behind. It’s a different mindset: ‘OK, we’re behind, let’s just go out and play.’ This time, in the back of our mind we knew any team could come up and pass us just like we did.”
The Knights did just that thanks to strong performances from their girls and slow starts from the Jaguars. Alcon said Hilary Gugig’s second round opened with a bad break – her ball resting in a divot in a bunker – that led to a double bogey at the first hole … and two more immediately followed as she tried to regroup.
Fellow junior Mande Monchick saw stroke after stroke slip away. And sophomore Sarah Bae put so much pressure on herself to take the individual crown that it was all Alcon could do to get her to relax.
It didn’t take long before Athens Drive’s top trio – along with fourth qualifier Jackie Wallace, a freshman – saw their championship hopes escaping.
“The girls were down,” Alcon said. “With four, five holes left, I told them, ‘Play the best you can. Let’s not fold. If we can’t take first, let’s hold on to second. Come out of here the champions we know we are.’”
And the girls did just that.
Bae went on to shoot 75-78 to finish tied for sixth in the state. Monchick chipped in from a bunker for birdie on her final hole to post 81-82, which tied for 17th overall. Gugig’s 84-88 came with steady play following her unfortunate start, and even Wallace – in her first championship after only recently learning the game – shaved seven shots off her first-day total.
Senior Kristi Ingram of Winston-Salem’s Mount Tabor High finished at even par 144 (73-71) to claim a two-shot win over North Mecklenburg’s Katie Kirk (73-73). Suzie Choe of Fayetteville’s Terry Sanford High claimed third with 76-71.
The Jaguars won their conference, league tournament and regional. Best of all, only one senior was lost, and all four competitors from the state championship return.
“It’s a learning experience for us,” Alcon said. “I feel very strongly that with these two juniors this year, it’s such a maturing event for them that they will come through with even more special things next year. Barring any weird circumstance, we’ll be very competitive again next year.”