Michigan City duo, Crown Point earn returns to state golf tournament
BATTLE GROUND -- Even after the announcement of awards at Saturday's Lafayette Jefferson Regional, there was still a look of angst on the face of Lia Thomas.
'How ya' doin?' she was asked.
"A lot better than I was 20 minutes ago," the Michigan City senior said following her third state finals berth.
As she walked off the ninth green, her 18th hole, at Battle Ground, Thomas feared her season might be over and there would be no third trip to Prairie View for the state finals.
"After I finished, no one around me," she said. "(I thought,) no one wants to break the news."
With three holes to play, Thomas was in the mix for medalist honors, despite an uneven round, but the par-five seventh was nearly her undoing. She hit out of bounds and missed a shorty, the dreaded snowman (eight) penciled onto her scorecard.
"It was not fun," she said. "I actually had a lot of doubt throughout the whole day. All around, it was not a good day, but I just kept going. I started strong, with a string of pars. I was really excited. Then I was getting into trouble where I specifically wrote in my notes in my practice round not to go, I wasn't playing smart golf, but then I had another string of pars, a birdie, so things seemed to turn around up until that hole, I was thinking maybe I'm still fine."
Before Thomas went to the eighth tee, Wolves coach Drew White took her aside briefly to try to ease the jangled nerves.
"Even when she thought she was down and out there and felt like her opportunity was slipping through her grip, I kept telling her, you're still in this," White said. "I told her I need you to give me two more pars."
Unfortunately, Thomas bogeyed No. 8, doing nothing to allay her anxiety.
"Drew told me to just par out and I'd be good, then of course, I bogeyed and I'm more stressed out," she said. "You can't change the past. You've got to keep going."
Again, White came to her for a few words.
"She was kind of down again," he said. "I told her, you don't think you're in this, but you're in this."
Thomas found her resolve to par the ninth to finish, totaling 81 for her round.
Would it be enough?
"I'm glad I ended with a par," she said. "The bad thing was I didn't know. (People) stayed away for a minute. Then (assistant coach Aaron) Garrett came up, I thought he was going to break the (bad) news, like it's OK," she said. "I was prepared for the worst. He grabbed my head and made sure I knew I got out. I'm thankful I get a chance to redeem myself. (This) would not have been a good note to end on. It would've been bad."
After all the drama, White was relieved to smile.
"Lia was Lia. She always rises to the occasion," he said. "(The last hole) says everything you need to know about Lia Thomas. First of all, to trust me telling her she was still in play, then to go out and get that final par, that was absolutely huge. She wants to dictate what is a solid round. I told her sometimes you just have to be among the best on the course that day. Golf is one of those sports where 80 is going to be good one day and not good another day. On this particular day, 81 was good."
As it turned out, Thomas had a stroke to spare as 82 was the high individual qualifying score.
There wasn't nearly as much suspense for junior teammate Taylor Skibinski, whose 78 finished second, one shot off medalist Lucy Quigley of Tipton.
"It was my best round all year so far," Skibinski said. "It does feel good. I went into the round thinking, it's a new day. I wasn't thinking what I did last year. I went into it thinking positive. If I made it, I made it; if I didn't, I didn't. I came in with a blank mind. I was just going up and hitting the ball. It worked out for me. I'm grateful not to have any setbacks, no being out for two weeks or anything. I went in with the mindset, this could be my last time, who knows, basically every match, every tournament."
Winds that kicked up in the afternoon as the Wolves teed off caused some clubbing adjustments, but Skibinski wasn't fazed.
"I think I play better with this wind," she said. "My driver the first nine was exceptional, then I started to go to back to normal Taylor during the second nine, but I learned how to adjust and played for it. My putting was good. I didn't really have much chipping. It was basically driver and wedge."
Skibinski will compete at state for the second time.
"At the beginning of the season, our goal was to get those two back down to state and it's mission accomplished," White said. "I'm through the roof happy for Taylor and Lia. Taylor's had her ups and downs this season. Lia's had her ups and downs. 'Skibi' came out and brought it. This was definitely her best round of the year. This breeze was an equalizer. There were a lot of good golfers out here and the scores were high. She played really good, consistent golf. They're tremendous golfers and they deserve to go back to Prairie View."
Taylor Skibinski, left, and Lia Thomas of Michigan City qualified for the state finals, shooting 78 and 81, respectively, in Saturday's Lafayette Jefferson Regional at Battle Ground. Crown Point advanced as a team, finishing third. (Photo courtesy of Michigan City Girls Golf Twitter)
The Michigan City duo will be joined in Carmel by Crown Point, which claimed a return trip to state, finishing third at 347. Culver Academy (341) and Western (342) went one-two.
"I'm really happy for these girls, especially the seniors who get another chance to play at state," Bulldogs coach Jennifer Vinovich said. "My goal was to break 340...to have three scores under 85 and one under 95. I felt that would be enough to get us out to the state tournament. It was really a great effort through most of the round, but I was on edge, how is this going to work out? I did not tell them anything (after nine). Our goal was to enjoy it, have fun, execute the game plan, don't get caught up in the pressure of the moment."
Vinovich's target scores were largely on point with 83s from Delaney and Maddie Adams, an 87 for Valentina Goza and a 94 for Jasmine Harper.
"Delaney averages 82," Vinovich said. "Her practice round was a little crazy. She had a rough round, but came back and shot six strokes less. Maddie averages 86 and shot 83, which is fantastic. She went 43 and 37 (Friday) and 45 and 38 today, an average front nine and spectacular back nine. Val averages 86 and shot 87. Our four and five players, I believe, are the key to our success because our one, two, three are very consistent. We know what to expect from them. Our four and five, we never know."
For this round, Harper was the wild card, shooting eight or nine strokes below her average. Bella Weiss (95 average) rounded out CP's scores.
"Amazing," Vinovich said of Harper. "I couldn't be more proud of her."
Among other local teams, Lake Central was fourth at 364, led by Camyran Golec's 85. Munster took seventh (371) over Michigan City on a fifth-score tie-breaker. New Prairie (381) was tenth, Chesterton (383) 12th, Portage (397) 13th, Valparaiso (402) 14th, North Newton (405) 15th and Kankakee Valley (418) 17th. Rebecca Jones shot 88 for the Mustangs, taking it out in 39 for her first (back) nine. Jordan Jacobs of Portage and Jaiden Winters of New Prairie matched her score.