By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The signs of nervousness vary almost as much as fingerprints. Trembling hands, sweating, pacing, a high-pitched laugh, excessive talking, silence, licking lips, dry mouth, muscle stiffness . . . the list is lengthy and differs from athlete to athlete. Very few are immune to its effects.
Bedford North Lawrence coach Kori Johnston, just voted the Coach of the Year by her peers that qualified for the IHSAA regional, has her fingers on the pulse of her team. She knows the tells, like a poker professional senses weakness at the table. When the Stars step on the first tee for the opening round of the IHSAA state championships, she expects some body vibrations, some crackling voices, some fear in the eyes.
Only a robot would not feel that way. It’s the grand stage, the finale of the state tournament series, the goal BNL set when the 2023 campaign began. What could differentiate the Stars from their competition among the 18 teams and 18 other individuals who will compete at Prairie View? Experience, the great antidote for nerves.
BNL will make its second consecutive appearance in the IHSAA state tournament, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Four of five in the lineup have been there before, and the Stars are counting on that veteran calmness as they face the stress and trials of a difficult course and elite teams in the field.
The 14th-ranked Stars, coming off their 11th straight sectional title and their first regional crown since 1985, have the momentum to make some noise in the event. While they’re long-shot contenders for the team title, they have the talent and moxie to challenge for a spot in the top 10. That would make the weekend a success.
“Our realistic expectations will be the top 12,” Johnston said. “That’s very easily done for us. The top 10 would be ideal. Last year was our first time to ever see it, myself included. It’s a different animal. But we’ve improved a ton. Our mental games, more than anything, have improved. We really need that going into the state, with all the nerves that will be there.”
BNL, making the 10th state finals trip in program history, finished 15th a year ago, and the first-day score (403) revealed how nervous the entire team was. But the Stars bounced back with a more respectable showing (372) on Day 2, then played the course again earlier this season during the State Preview tournament.
The top of the lineup – seniors Chloe McFaddin and Kenley Craig – have lowered their scores each time they’ve seen Prairie View. That’s what seniors are expected to do. The other two veterans – junior Ellie Horton and sophomore Kinleigh Root – have gotten past the shock-and-awe phase. What they built up in their minds turned out to be far less of a demon.
“It’s not as hard as I thought it would be,” Horton said. “When you go into it, you think it’s a state course and will be impossible to play. It’s possible to play.”
But it’s difficult. Danger lurks on almost every hole. Prairie View scorecards are often turned in with multiple-bogey numbers on multiple holes. That’s the trick. Avoid disaster and limit damage.
“You have to play smart golf,” Root said. “If there’s an opportunity to lay, then lay up. It’s a huge stage. Once you get into it, you calm down and play your own game.”
“I think we’ll settle in and see some good scores,” Johnston said. “Any time you play golf, all the experience is important. When you know the course, you get a little more comfortable on it, you know what to expect. That will play a factor.
“Part of it is nerves. You’re on the biggest stage we’ll play on, and they have high expectations for themselves. The course plays longer than most of the courses we play. There are some holes you have to play smart, you have to play some strategy. That’s what we’ll focus on. Once we get a few holes in, they usually settle in.”
That leaves freshman Sammie Nusbaum, who’s been solid in the fifth spot this season. This is all new to her, although she’s learning at a rapid pace. It’s either that, or get overwhelmed on this frantic, fantastic ride.
“It’s mainly just scary, being honest,” Nusbaum said. “But I’ve played it before, so I won’t be as nervous. My nerves are a very high point in everything I do. I freak out. But once I settle in, it’s usually OK.“
If length is a prerequisite for success, McFaddin and Root have that strength in their games. McFaddin had two birdies during her last round in the State Preview. Craig carded eight pars that same date. So it’s a matter of accuracy and consistency.
“If they have their driver dialed in, we could see some good scores,” Johnston said. “I’d be thrilled if we could throw in one or two in the 70s, but if we can keep them all in the 80s, I’ll be satisfied with that.”
That was key to BNL’s success in the regional. Four scores in the 80s equaled a historic title.
“Being able to do it was awesome, but doing it with the girls as a team, it was incredible,” Horton said. “It’s been a surreal experience.”
BNL’s best state finish was third place in 1977.
IHSAA STATE FINALS
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