Lions girls’ golf earns first state title with consistency, determination

One year after a fourth-place finish in the Class A state girls’ golf tournament, Legacy Christian Academy walked away from Pebble Creek Golf Course in Becker with the state championship trophy June 12.

Legacy Christian Academy’s Jillian Johnson hits out from behind a tree in the Class A state meet at Pebble Creek.  Photo by Bill Jones Legacy Christian Academy seventh grader Jadyn Nelson follows through on a shot during the Class A state golf tournament at Pebble Creek June 11. She finished 81st overall with a two-round total 238. Photo by Bill Jones
Legacy Christian Academy seventh grader Jadyn Nelson follows through on a shot during the Class A state golf tournament at Pebble Creek June 11. She finished 81st overall with a two-round total 238. Photo by Bill Jones

The Lions overcame a seven-shot deficit from the first day of competition to capture the program’s first Class A title by 19 strokes ahead of Badger-Greenbush-Middle River and did so with consistent scoring from its four scoring golfers. Legacy was the only team out of the field of eight to not have a triple-digit score on its team scorecard.

Lions coach Dan Nelson said Pebble Creek played into the team’s strengths. “Besides [eighth-grader Kayla] Ruf, we don’t bomb the ball deep,” he said. “We keep the ball in the middle of the fairway and score with our wedges and putters.”

The team spends an hour each day chipping, putting and hitting out of the sand, according to Nelson. “We take pride in getting up and down out of the sand and never three-putting,” Nelson said.

Pebble Creek rewards players who play accurate tee shots. “We could not compete with Badger-Greenbush-Middle River off the tee, but our number of fairways and greens hit in regulation gave us the boost we needed on day two to come back,” Nelson said.

Ruf carded a two-round 185 to tie for 16th place followed by sophomore Anna Cleveland’s 188 to tie for 21st. Seventh-grader Sophia Gray was one stroke back at 189 and tied for 23rd and sophomore Jillian Johnson finished 25th with a score of 190. Sophomore Lindsey McAlpin tied for 42nd with a 201 and seventh-grader Jadyn Nelson placed 81st with a 238.

Last year then-senior Rachel Gray captured the individual title with rounds of 82 and 79 to win by five strokes.

Johnson, Cleveland, McAlpin and Ruf were on the 2012 state team and coach Nelson said that experience last spring really helped pave the path to the state title this year. “Their experience really showed up on the second day and really helped them stay composed,” he said.

Cleveland, Ruf and Johnson had final rounds of 91, 92 and 94, respectively.

The soggy conditions forced Legacy to take a more conservative approach. “We knew the rain was going to make the rough almost impossible to hit out of,” Nelson said

The top goal for the day was to stay in the fairway “even if it meant using an iron off the tee,” he said.

An example came on the par five second hole that was the wettest and most difficult on the day. Ruf used a seven iron off the tee and ended up with a par.

“She drove the ball deep both days, but had the wisdom to use her irons when conditions called for it,” Nelson said. “Her confidence in her irons gave her incredible consistency; her most significant strength was her mental preparation.”

Ruf started both days extremely well with four pars on the first five holes on Day 1 and two of three on Day 2.

Cleveland used a four-hybrid instead of driver and improved by six strokes from the first round. She proved to be the most consistent scorer for the Lions, with all of her nine-hole scores in the 40s, including a day two team low score of 91. Her father told Nelson that after an opening-round 97, Cleveland would follow that with a round in the 80s. He was close to the prediction since she played one of her best rounds.

Gray followed a remarkable performance at the section meet when she carded two rounds in the 80s with a team best 90 in the opening round.

Johnson recovered from an opening nine hole 53 with a 43 on the back nine for a first day 96. “Most players I’ve coached don’t have the ability to recover like that,” Nelson said. She shot a 94 on day two.

Looking ahead to 2014, Nelson was most excited about the future of the Lions program which returns a sophomore, eighth-grader and two seventh-graders. “They all have a commitment not only to improving their golf game but also becoming better athletes,” he said.

They’ve worked with a strength coach before the season focusing on developing quick-twitch muscles using a power plate and elastic bands, Nelson.

“The girls saw incredible improvements in their game and health that they attribute to this training,” she said.

Riding off the high of a state championship, all six varsity players plan on participating in the Minnesota Section of the PGA’s junior tour which plays at various course throughout Minnesota.

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