BECKER -- After Tuesday’s opening-round scores were posted at the Class 1A state girls golf tournament, Fillmore Central coach Lane Powell said this: “It’s OK to be under the radar.”
That’s how the Falcons flew into the state tourney at Pebble Creek Golf Club. It’s the school’s first appearance at state and the six players on the roster are a seventh-grader, an eighth-grader, a ninth-grader, a sophomore, a junior and a senior. How’s that for symmetry?
Fillmore Central – the school is in Harmony in southeastern Minnesota – stands in third place at the halfway point of the tournament and is within range of a state title by tourney’s end Wednesday. BOLD leads the team race with a 365 score, followed by defending champion Legacy Christian (367), Fillmore Central (369) and Windom (379) in the eight-team field.
Christina Piwnica of Southwest Christian and Lauren Laffen of Sleepy Eye lead the individuals with 79s, followed by Abby Herding of Westbrook-Walnut Grove at 80 and Elizabeth Hennessy of Lewiston-Altura at 81.
Fillmore Central is a golf team (pictured) that has been building toward this first trip to state. Powell is in his third year as the varsity girls coach after spending eight years coaching the junior high boys team. Powell, the band director at Fillmore Central, also represents the Minnesota Music Educators Association on the MSHSL board of directors.
Fillmore Central is well-known for its music program. In the 2013-14 school year, the high school had an enrollment of 131 students and 98 of them were involved in band, including every member of the varsity girls golf team.
“Powell has completely changed the (golf) program,” said junior Katie Tammel. “You see the band program and how strong it is; that’s what’s happened with the golf team.”
Senior Keeley Todd said, “Last year we had eight or nine players and now we have 15. They’re mostly young but that’s good for the program.”
Powell said his philosophy of building a golf team is just like his philosophy of building a successful band program. For example, a summer golf program was started three years ago and it’s paying dividends now.
“You’ve got to have a five-, 10-year plan; ‘Here’s where we want to be and here’s how we get there,’ ” he said. “You keep preaching the same things over and over until it’s second nature. Our goals were incremental, small steps. We’ve knocked down each small step, and that’s like any success. It can’t happen overnight.”
The Falcons’ top scorer Tuesday was sophomore Laura Donney with an 88. Todd shot an 89, eighth-grader Grace Miller a 95, seventh-grader Madison Scheevel a 97, Tammel a 100 and ninth-grader Elayna Kiehne a 111.
After all the players finished Tuesday’s round, Powell gathered them in a tight circle and talked about what they had accomplished and what’s in store.
“I told them I was very proud of them,” he said. “They’re playing our style of golf, which is conservative, smart. We’re not big hitters. We try to score on what’s in front of us. It doesn’t have to be pretty. And to be honest, nobody expected us to be here. We’re four strokes out of first and people are like, ‘Who is this?’ ”
A year ago the Falcons didn’t advance from their subsection tournament to the Section 1 meet as a team. Five individuals did advance to sections a year ago, with one player missing a trip to state by one stroke and another coming two strokes short.
“We knew we were getting closer but they’d never been on a big stage before,” Powell said.
Tuesday’s round on that big stage was a team effort, explained Tammel.
“Today was one of those days where your teammates really come up big,” she said. “I was golfing in the No. 1 spot but I shot a No. 5 score. My teammates buckled down and shot really well. I think the pressure was taken off even when I knew I wasn’t playing my best golf, because I knew my teammates were playing so well.”
Another major part of the story is how the community has rallied around the team. The Falcons had no matching team shirts to wear during the season, but their attire at state is first-class: Sharp-looking teal shirts (the school colors are silver, black and teal) with their first names on one sleeve and “State 2014” on the other sleeve.
Families, the public and local businesses have raised money for all kinds of purposes, including practice rounds at four courses near Harmony that are similar to Pebble Creek (“that was 250 bucks a shot,” Powell said). A local bank paid for the team’s dinner Tuesday night.
“People have been great,” Powell said. “Sometimes the non-gate sports can get a little neglected in the eyes of the public. But once it got out that the girls were doing so well, all these things keep going on and on.”
With the first round in the books, the Falcons are primed for the final 18 holes Wednesday. Expectations?
“I have no expectations,” Tammel said. “Just play well. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. If we win it, we win it. if we get second place, it’s one of those things. It’s icing on the cake to be here.”
“We want to play well,” Keeley said. “And if we do, it’ll be awesome.”
No matter what happens, it’s already pretty awesome.
BY THE NUMBERS
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