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Linn-Mar girls’ golfers have shifted from hopeful contenders to confident qualifiers in sixth straight state meet
State tournaments in all 4 classes begin Thursday
Linn-Mar girls’ golf coach Chris James recalled the excitement when the Lions clawed their way to state in his first year with the program.
From that 2017 season, Linn-Mar hasn’t missed a state meet, transitioning from hopeful contender to confident qualifier. The shift is one of the reasons last week’s regional tournament seemed calm and stress free.
“It’s been fun,” James said about the team culture. “We do what we expected. We went out and set our goals. We aren’t cocky or anything. It’s just something we expect to do, which is great.”
The Lions will make their sixth straight state appearance, playing in the Class 4A championship tournament at Otter Creek Golf Course in Ankeny. Play begins Thursday at 9 a.m. with Friday’s final round at 8:30 a.m.
Linn-Mar is coming off regional and Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division titles. The Lions will look to improve on two straight ninth-place finishes.
“Getting to state was a long-term goal for everybody on the team,” Linn-Mar senior Quinn Dunkle said. “I think we all have this motivation to go as far as we can at state, so we’ve all been working hard in practice, getting in extra hours.”
Linn-Mar ranks first in 4A with a 327.14 18-hole average and second in both combined adjusted (173.33) and 18-hole adjusted average (341.83). James is more concerned with trends than statistics. He is focused on how the team has been playing, the preparation and making sure the players are mentally and physically refreshed for the next two days.
“This game is not so much about what other people are doing but about us,” said James, noting a couple have battled illness the last week. “My message to the girls is worry about yourselves. Take care of your business. This game is hard enough. Don’t think about what everyone else is doing.
“If you play great, focus on every shot and try as hard as you can, you can live with the result.”
Morgan Rupp leads the way for the Lions. The sophomore placed fourth at state a year ago. The MVC Valley Division Player of the Year averages 73.43 per round with a 77.10 18-hole adjusted average. Dunkle is next at 82.29 and Ava Kline comes in at a little more than 85 per round. Both were first-team all-conference performers. Nina and Gabby Mercure and Jayden Schumacher round out the lineup, looking for Linn-Mar’s best finish since third in 2018.
Course management, smart decisions, poise and a strong short game, including improved chipping, will be key for the Lions.
“I think that’s a possibility,” Dunkle said about a team trophy. “I’ve seen our results in tournaments and meets. We’ve performed really well as a team. I feel if we’re all on our best game we can come away with some hardware.”
Dunkle adds an interesting dynamic to the team. She is an accomplished hockey player, who will play at University of Minnesota-Duluth next season. She learned both sports from her Canadian father, Sean, who formerly worked with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. She started skating at 4 years old and started playing hockey at 5. About the same time, she followed in her family’s footsteps on the course.
“I’ve been playing since I can remember,” Dunkle said. “My dad golfed his whole life. When he met my mom, she started golfing. Then, my brother started golfing. I was just destined to golf.”
Linn-Mar will see some familiar faces in the 4A field. Mississippi Valley Conference foes Cedar Rapids Washington, Western Dubuque and Cedar Falls also will compete. Interestingly, seven of the 10 state-qualifying teams played at the Linn-Mar Invitational at Hunters Ridge on April 25. James had a goal to strengthen that home tournament from his first day at the helm. He was successful and the Lions are battled tested.
“We’ve played well and our scores have reflected that,” James said. “I’m excited because I don’t think our team has all played well on the same day, so we’ll see what happens. A lot of things have to line up and that doesn’t happen very often for golf but we’re hoping that it might.”
Warriors Coach Denny Goettel said before the regional meet that they have played the Lions in more than half of their competitions, including conference and postseason meets.
“We agree it pushed both of our teams,” Goettel said. “We’ve been playing against some really good teams. That helps you.”
Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Addie Berg and Iowa City Liberty’s Bella Pettersen returned to state as individuals for the third time each. Berg tied for eighth last season. Pettersen, a junior, has placed third in each of the last two seasons.
Girls’ state golf outlook in 3A, 2A and 1A
Cedar Rapids Xavier heads to Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Cedar Falls for the 3A tournament. The Saints are making their first team appearance since getting third in 2019 and are led by sister duo Meera and Mehar Julka. Meera, a junior, is a two-time qualifier, finishing ninth a year ago.
Few girls’ golf programs own the tradition of Washington (Iowa). The Demons are back for the third straight year, winning in 2021 and placing sixth last season. They rank fourth in 3A with a combined adjusted average of 181.19. The Demons are led by Makenna Conrad (42.36) and Kaylin Long (44.21).
Lisbon placed fourth last year and returns five with state experience, including Kaylie Kelchen. The Lions’ junior placed 10th in 2022 and tied for 12th as a freshman.
Dyersville Beckman, Mid-Prairie and Oelwein reached the 2A state meet at American Legion Golf Course in Marshalltown. Beckman is the lone Gazette-area school to boast state golf qualifying boys’ and girls’ golf teams this spring.
West Branch is in the 1A state team race at Cedar Pointe Golf Course in Boone.
2023 IGHSAU state golf meets (May 25-26)
Class 4A at Ankeny (Otter Creek Golf Course)
Team qualifiers – Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids Washington, Linn-Mar, North Scott, Pleasant Valley, Southeast Polk, Waukee Northwest, West Des Moines Valley, Western Dubuque
Other area individual qualifiers: Addie Berg, Cedar Rapids Prairie, sr.; Bella Pettersen, Iowa City Liberty, jr.
Class 3A at Cedar Falls (Pheasant Ridge Golf Course)
Team qualifiers – Cedar Rapids Xavier, Clear Lake, DeWitt Central, Dubuque Wahlert, Gilbert, Lisbon, MOC-Floyd Valley, Nevada, Washington, West Delaware
Other area individual qualifiers – Jaisel Bott, Williamsburg, jr.
Class 2A at Marshalltown (American Legion Golf Course)
Team qualifiers – Central Lyon, Dyersville Beckman, Mid-Prairie, New Hampton, Oelwein, Roland-Story, Sumner-Fredericksburg, Van Meter, West Lyon, West Marshall
Other area individual qualifiers – Morgan Krall, Jesup, fr.; Paycee Sorgenfrey, Tipton, fr.
Class 1A at Boone (Cedar Pointe Golf Course)
Team qualifiers – Akron-Westfield, Alta-Aurelia, Conrad BCLUW, Easton Valley, Grundy Center, Nashua-Plainfield, New London, Newell-Fonda, Sidney, West Branch
Other area individuals qualifiers – Kelsi Cerny, Highland, jr.; Bretlyn Decker, Central City, soph.; Jaeden Hellenthal, East Buchanan, jr.