Back to back Tanagers tops in golf – again

Back to back Tanagers tops in golf – again Members of the Vermillion Tanagers 2003 State A girl's golf championship squad are Jackie Thomas, Dru VanKley, Allison Stewart, Ashley Bjorkman and Karrie Plate. by David Lias and Jim Prosser Vermillion's Allison Stewart strolled off the 18th green of The Bluffs Golf Course in Vermillion Tuesday exuding the same bubbly, aw-shucks attitude that has become her trademark at the local links.

You'd never know by watching her that she had just blistered the course, repeating as top scorer in the South Dakota Class A girls' golf championship.

You'd never know by watching her teammates that they, too, were champions.

The team, with all five players finishing in the top 15, ended up winning their second consecutive Class A team title, finishing a whopping 87 strokes ahead the second-place squad.

Stewart humbly admitted afterwards that she never felt she had the championship wrapped up during Tuesday's final round.

"No ? I really never felt I had it. That shot on 17 didn't make me feel too good," Stewart said.

The 17th hole brought her down to earth briefly. She sprayed her tee shot on the par-3 135-yard hole, and three-putted for her worst hole of the day.

"I got a case of the shanks, I guess," she said, laughing.

The Vermillion golf phenom had started the day tied at 74 with Lead junior Brittnay Hofer.

The two golfers had battled wet and windy conditions at The Bluffs Monday, building a nine stroke margin over the rest of the field.

Observers who thought Tuesday would be a time of high drama as they watched the two golfers duel quickly had their hopes dashed.

Stewart birdied the first and second holes, then drove the 256-yard par-4 No. 3 and drained a 15-foot putt for eagle.

By the time she finished at the par-5 No. 6 with another birdie, she was already five-under for the day.

She bogeyed two of the last three on the front side to make the turn at 33, three-

under. Stewart scored a bogey on the 114-yard par-3 No. 12 � one of the easier holes on the course � but followed that with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14.

Tuesday's conditions, with sunny skies and calm winds, were perfect for golf. It was a big contrast to Monday's opening round. Rain fell steadily Monday morning, delaying the start of the tourney.

Once play got underway, golfers found themselves battling a steady northern gale. "When we got out there (Monday) I was just excited to start, because I really wanted to play a 36-hole tournament," Stewart said.

The Bluffs has served as Stewart's playground in Vermillion since its opening approximately six years ago.

"I was excited to play at home," she said. "I've been looking forward to it all year."

It's a sentiment shared by her teammates, who all finished in the top 15. Stewart, Karrie Plate, Ashley Bjorkman, and Dru VanKley are basking in more than just championship glory.

Sunday, the four young women will be together once again as they receive their diplomas at Vermillion High School's commencement exercises.

Sophomore Jackie Thomas no doubt will be in the audience Sunday, witnessing her teammates' special moment.

"It was a lot of hard work. It was a great season," said VanKley, who finished the tournament tied for 14th with a score of 188. "We had a lot of fun."

"I just think it is an honor to play with all of these girls," said Bjorkman, whose score of 184 claimed 13th place in the competition.

"It's just awesome playing with these girls," said Thomas. She didn't express any fears of being left behind by the departure of her senior classmates. "We've got some eighth-graders that are coming up, so it will be fun."

Thomas claimed sixth place with a 176 score.

Plate, who shot an 83 during Monday's miserable weather conditions, turned on the heat Tuesday with a 73. Her 156 total garnered third place.

"It (the championship) is great," Plate said.

Coach Kirk Hogen, who also serves as the PGA pro at The Bluffs, said the Tanagers began preparing to claim the 2003 championship right after they won last year's Class A tournament.

"Their goal definitely was to repeat," Hogen said. "There's no doubt about that. This goal, and this mission, didn't start in March. It started a long time ago."

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The journey to the championship was filled with a few low points, but also some great times, he said. It's the nature of the game.

"You go through the learning experiences as you do in life, and golf, in many ways, is related to that," Hogen said. "You have to deal with a lot of things in this sport that you have no control over, such as the weather, for example, on Monday.

"You have to get away from that and stay focused on the things you can control," he said, "and that's yourself playing that golf course. That's a tribute to these girls. They've learned that, and it's reflected in their scores."

Hogen praised Plate's ability to persevere and finish third. It's a quality she's shown time and again.

"She was getting a little bit frustrated at mid-season," he said, "but hats off to her. Due to her maturity, and her goals and expectations, she was able to finish the tournament in grand style."

Hogen rates Thomas as the Vermillion squad's most improved golfer this year. "She's a competitor."

Thomas, he said, has learned how to deal with the misfortunes that can be experienced during play. "When something happens out there, you almost have to think of something ridiculous � something that will make you laugh and help you get over it. She's been great."

Bjorkman strolled onto the local golf course's turf after leading the Tanagers on the basketball court.

"I think Ashley and Allison had a trade off � Allison promised she would go out and help the basketball team if Ashley came out and helped the golf team.

"That was a good barter, because she was definitely a contributor. As the season went on, she was more of an involved golfer and she became a bigger contributor."

Hogen praised VanKley for the quality she brought to the 2003 Tanager team, and her strong work ethic.

"She does the things that you want her to do," he said. "She has a great working relationship with her dad. She's a great contributor.

"The team had a great finish," he said.

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