by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
There was a time when state tournament trips were routine for Elk River girls golf. Not any more.
But the 2011 edition of the Elks has ended a five-year absence from the big show by winning the Section 7AAA tournament that concluded Thursday at Princeton Golf Club.
“It was very exciting when I watched my sisters play in state and sectionals,” said Elk junior Sadiie Martin, who was meet medalist. “And now our team is going, too. That’s so great.”
Martin shot 76 Monday and 80 Thursday for a 156 to capture her third state trip, and first section medal, by four strokes. Elk senior Andrea Dwyer placed fifth individually with 87-82-169.
“Oh, my gosh, this was phenomenal,” said coach Dave Bleyhl, who will take his 18th team to state (most of any Minnesota girls coach) and first since the 2005 team won the school’s lone state championship.
“This is almost bigger than the last time we went. These kids worked real hard for this. They spent a lot of time on the driving range and working on their games. It’s a big day for us. Grand Rapids is a very good team. We told the kids to remember to have fun.”
The Elks’ other counting scores Thursday were senior McKaila Granning with 48-38-86 and junior Alex McDonald with 48-48-96. Struggling a bit were seniors Ashlee Lindeen with 52-47-99 and Nicole Thorndal with 56-51-107.
Other state individual qualifiers were the runner-up, Duluth East’s Tabiitha Kunst with 160, along with Andover’s Sierra Langley with 166 and three Grand Rapids players, Mikki Kromey with 164, Katie Sheets 175 and Dani DelGreco 177.
After the 2005 state title, the Elks had just one holdover (Molly Martin for two years) and went into a start-over mode, finishing near the bottom of the conference two years. But the current group started to emerge and won conference titles the last three years. Last year they placed second in the sectional, and this year were poised for a run at state.
The No. 5 ranked Elks led by seven strokes after Monday and were 18 more strokes better than Grand Raids on Thursday. Final tally was Elks 690, Grand Rapids 715, and Duluth East 757. The top three from a field of 13 advanced after Monday.
“We are just super excited,” said Martin. “When I finished and Alex came up to me and said we were up by 20, my heart was just pumping.”
“We felt really confident coming in,” said Dwyer. “Not cocky, but totally like we had it.”
The Elks will play at state Tuesday and Wednesday, June 14-15, at Bunker Hills — and the boys team is going, too, having won Section 7AAA a day earlier at Bunker Hills.
Martin, who placed fourth at sectionals the last two years, led Kunst by a stroke after Monday with 76 and stayed in front with a steady if unspectacular 80 Thursday.
“I got on the greens and made my putts. It wasn’t that great a round,” said Martin, who had one birdie, on No. 17.
Dwyer followed her 87 Monday with an 82 in the final 18.
“I hit the ball pretty well and dropped all my putts,” said Dwyer. “And I stayed confident even after bad holes.”
She had one birdie, on No. 5, with a good tee shot from her hybrid and a five-foot putt, and avoided any blowups, with no worse than a double bogey.
Granning had three shaky rounds — 93 on Monday, and 48 the first round Thursday — before closing strong with a 38 and finished third on the team with 179 for the 36 holes.
“I started making some putts,” Granning said about the final round. “There were some tough pin placements but I came to accept that, and just make the best of it. I didn’t make so many mistakes. It felt pretty good especially after my first round (Monday).”
She birdied the last two holes, both par fives, with the wind behind her, hitting the green from 160 yards on 17 and from 150 yards on 18, and two-putting each.
McDonald, the No. 6 player, wound up with a counting score shooting 48-48-96.
“Not my best, but not bad, either,” said McDonald, whose low for the year is 89. “I had some good putts and parred three holes.”
Granning and Martin went to state individually last year, when the team placed second at sectionals. Granning placed 27th with 171 and Martin 40th with 174.
“It’s going to be a lot more fun going to state this year, with the whole team,” said Granning.
Elks have 8 section titles
The girl golfers were the eighth ERHS team to capture a section crown this year, joining boys and girls tennis, boys and girls soccer, girls hockey, girls cross country, and boys golf. The girls track team is a contender in Section 7AA, which will conclude Saturday at Grand Rapids.
Elks tournament summary
1. Elk River …………. 346-344–690
2. Grand Rapids …. 353-362–715
3. Duluth East ……… 380-377–757
Sadie Martin …………… 76-80–156
Andrea Dwyer ………… 87-82–169
McKaila Granning ….. 93-86–179
Ashlee Lindeen ……… 90-99–189
Alex McDonald ………. 100-96-196
Nicole Thorndal ………. 92-107-199