Clear some space in the crowded Cardinal Gibbons trophy case for girls golf.
The Crusaders, who have collected close to 50 state titles since joining the North Carolina High School Association in 2005, finally got one in girls golf by dominating a 10-team 3A field on two beautiful late October days at Longleaf Golf & Country Club.
While the girls athletic program at Cardinal Gibbons has earned numerous titles in tennis, volleyball, soccer, swimming and cross country, the closest the golf team came was third in 2012 and fourth in 2013. But this was in the cards from the first day of practice as a pair of veteran seniors blended perfectly with three talented freshmen.
“Four years ago when we started the team, we never thought we’d come this far,” said senior Ellen Smith. “This is my fourth year at states and finally ending with a win is just amazing to me. The progress that we’ve made is the thing I’m most proud of.”
Added fellow senior Caroline O’Neil: “This has definitely been our best year ever. We had some really strong girls come in and they have become some of my best friends.”
O’Neil tied for 20th among the 79 players in the field with 79-91 and Smith ended 31st with 87-90. Only O’Neil’s first-round 79 actually figured in the team scoring as the three freshmen took care of the rest.
Riley Smyth tied for third individually with 73-76, trailing only Siranon Shoomee of Lee County (71-67) and Gina Kim of Chapel Hill (69-74).
Hailey Freedman placed ninth with 80-79 and Hannah Rose Bruxvoort tied for 28th with 89-87, her second-day score figuring into the team total of 241.
The Crusaders had claimed a 13-shot lead over Marvin Ridge High of Waxhaw with 232 in the opening round and added five shots to the margin on day two, ending with an 18-shot cushion.
Rockingham County was third, 50 shots back, Fayetteville Sanford was fourth, 59 shots off the pace, and Lee County was fifth, 65 shots behind. Ledford, which had won the last three titles, settled for sixth.
With the exception of Cardinal Gibbons, every team in the field had the minimum number of three players. The Crusaders had the maximum of five players, thanks to a stellar day in the Central Regional tournament the week prior to states.
“We were fortunate to have five girls qualify at the regionals,” said coach Greg Greksa, a PGA professional at Wildwood Green Golf Club in Raleigh, home course for Cardinal Gibbons. “They all played well at regionals.”
Greksa is in his second season of coaching the Crusaders.
“I’m very honored and privileged to be a part of it all,” he said. “There’s a difference in teaching and coaching. My job was to keep them calm and happy and let them do what they already know how to do. They really worked hard this year and pulled together as a team. One of the coolest things for me was to see the bonding and camaraderie that we had.”
All five CG girls placed among the top 11 at the Central regional with Freedman and Smyth both shooting 80 and O’Neil 83 to provide a 21-shot margin over Ledford.
Smyth took it to another level at states, carding six birdies over the two days. She was even par through 27 holes before closing with a 5-over-par 40. She had only one score over bogey in the two steady rounds.
The Crusaders’ program had 11 girls who competed for playing time throughout the season. Liesl Miranda, the team’s third senior, played in previous state tournaments but the arrival of the freshmen left her on the sidelines this season.
With only three players graduating, the Cardinal Gibbons’ golf future looks bright. Nobody will be surprised if the golf section in the school’s trophy case continues to grow.