by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River girl golfers, big favorites this year to continue their recent conference dynasty, came through with a third straight unbeaten season in the Northwest Suburban.
Led by two veteran linksters — meet medalist Sadie Martin with 79 and Andrea Dwyer with 87 — and one discus thrower who took up golf less than a year ago, Nicole Thorndal with 89, the No. 5 ranked Elks won the conference tournament Friday on the heels of going 10-0 in conference duals.
“We didn’t assume anything — we knew that Centennial and Armstrong were close to us,” said Martin. “We knew we had to go out and play pretty well.”
On a grueling Bunker Hills course where “state” will be held in two weeks, the Elks won the 11-team meet with 354, with Armstrong second and Centennial third.
“On a tough day to play, they did very well,” said assistant coach Phil Johnson, alluding to the course that’s longer and tougher than what they usually play, with sand traps in the drive landing areas and slower greens. “It’s nice for us to play our conference meet where the state is going to be, but across the board, scores were higher for everyone today.”
Martin was able to shoot right around her season average, posting a 79 with steady play including one birdie.
“I was hitting the ball really well, and was able to make some putts,” she said, “but there was a few others I should have made but didn’t.”
Dwyer, a senior usually in the low 80′s, shot 87 after faltering on the last two holes with drives into the trees. She had a birdie on No. 3 (par three) with a 15-foot putt.
“Each game I play, there’s going to be some mistakes,” said Dwyer, “but I feel like I left it all out on the course today, for what I had to play with.”
Thorndal, a four-sport senior and golf rookie playing in the No. 5 slot, had the third-best score on the Elks, as her 89 was a personal-best by five strokes.
“That’s the best round I’ve ever played ” said Thorndal, whose frame of reference goes back less than a year, unlike her teammates who’ve played since grade school. “I had a lot of pars. I was putting pretty well and driving pretty well.”
Thorndal picked up her second conference championship of the week. She placed eighth in discus for the track team that won the conference meet held Tuesday and Thursday.
“That’s pretty neat,” she said. “I guess not everyone can say that.”
McKayla Granning had the Elks fourth counting score, a 99 that the senior and 2010 state qualifier was not happy about, but she picked up her sixth conference team championship — three each in tennis and golf.
“I was all over the place,” she lamented. “I’m going through a grip change. It’s a tough process. I’m hopeful about Monday. It’s going to be a grind for us.”
She referred to the first round of Section 7AAA Monday at Princeton. The tournament will conclude Thursday. The Elks were second last year behind Grand Rapids, who will again be the top rival.
No. 2 player Ashlee Lundeen also had an off day shooting 101 with No. 6 Alex McDonald also in triple digits.
“That’s the value of having depth like we do, when someone doesn’t have a good day and your No. 5 comes through,” said Johnson.
The holdovers from the last two conference champ teams were elated to add Thorndal this year. They knew her as a schoolmate and good athlete (Nordic skiing, swimming, track) but didn’t know she had taken up golf.
“Nicole’s been awesome,” said Martin. “When she joined, we were like, Oh, another senior, that should be fun! Then she shot in the 40′s her first meet (46) and we were like, ‘Oooooohhh, all right!”
Added Dwyer: “We feel really confident going into sectionals. We have a good team, especially with Nicole just showing up out of nowhere this year.”
Five Elks were among the 20 making all-conference — Martin, Lundeen, Dwyer, Granning and Thorndal.
The only downer of the day was Martin not being awarded the conference individual season medal. With the conference using a point system rather than stroke average, she finished just behind Sierra Langlie of Andover, who was seven strokes behind her Friday.
Head coach Dave Bleyhl left halfway through the meet to attend a tournament at Elk River Golf Club in honor of Lyle Christianson, longtime golfer who died recently.
The girls golf NWSC crown gives ERHS a final total of six for the school year, joining girls tennis, gymnastics, girls track, boys tennis, and boys golf.