By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – From tears to cheers, from upset to euphoric, from chagrined to champion. Kenley Craig earned her redemption. Trophies are awarded for almost anything in this new age, but this story was worthy of one. In fact, Craig took home a couple.
Just two days after a disheartening struggle left Bedford North Lawrence’s quiet senior awash in tears on Senior Night, Craig showed the resolve of a champion and emerged as one, powering the No.14 Stars to a sectional championship at Otis Park. BNL’s triumph was expected, as the Stars extended their remarkable streak to 11 constructive titles. Craig’s amazing day, winning medalist honors with a career-best 77, was not.
Rewind just 48 hours earlier. Craig walked off the front nine an emotional mess, so disappointed in her round of 48. The emotions were understandable, she had desperately wanted to make her final regular-season home a memorable one. Instead, her ability to forget that nightmare and bounce back so quickly made this even sweeter.
“I knew I was a better player than Senior Night,” Craig said. “I knew this would be the last time I played this course, and I gave it everything I had. I wanted to go out good.”
She was more than good. Craig made the turn with a solid 41 (with a birdie on the fifth), but it was her back nine that won her the top individual prize. She posted a 1-over 36 on the second half, capped by an exquisite birdie on the 16th. After a thunderous drive to the bottom of the hill, she gently lofted a wedge to the rock-hard green, landing it on the front and perfectly judging the roll out to the pin on the back. Eight feet, the putt was center cut. That was more like the Craig her team expected.
“I did not expect that,” Craig said of the medalist honor. “I’m proud of that.” And she should be. This was just another example of why sports generates such tales of second-chance salvation. It was appropriate for her to hold the trophy for the team photos.
“Coming off of Thursday, she was a little shaky,” BNL coach Kori Johnston said. “But I never lost faith in her. I knew she could do it.
“That’s a big thing we focus on, really improving our mental game. She has a fantastic mental game, the ability to recover from bad shots and let bad rounds go is just top-notch.”
The Stars won the crown with a score of 328. Kinleigh Root carded a 79 that featured birdies on 5 and 11, and Chloe McFaddin posted an 80 with a bounce-back 37 on the back nine. Ellie Horton capped the team scoring with 92.
“We come into it expecting to win,” Johnston said. “We’re mainly focused on posting good scores. More than just getting the win, we want to make sure we’re earning it. I’m happy with that number.”
The top three teams in the field advanced to the regional at Country Oaks, and Brownstown (387) and Springs Valley (418) earned those tickets. The top three individuals who are not members of qualifying teams also advanced, and those included Mitchell’s Anna Sowders (90), Orleans’ Anna Deckard (92) and Seymour’s Katie Cottrill (97).
BNL’s historic run of titles is starting to seriously threaten the state record (Twin Lakes won 14 in a row from 1998-2011). BNL’s senior twosome of Craig and McFaddin just knew they had to keep the streak alive. No one wants to be involved when it ends.
“When we came into this, we knew there was a streak and we were expected to continue it,” Craig said. “We felt pressure at the beginning, but now it comes natural to us.”
BNL will compete in the regional on Sept. 23. The top three teams in the state tournament’s second stage will advance to the State Finals at Prairie View on Sept. 29-30.