The St. Ursula Academy golf team has reached the girls state tournament in Columbus in seven of the last eight years, but this wasn't supposed to be one of them.
Entering this season, sixth-year Arrows coach Jim McGowan, whose 1999 team placed second in Ohio, felt this year's group might be a little too young and inexperienced to continue the tradition.
His returning varsity players - seniors Angie Sparagowski and Amanda Lambert and sophomore Jordan Fesh - would most likely be joined in the regular five-player lineup by two of the nine freshmen currently in the 15-member program.
But the strong competition for those final two spots from week to week proved to be what the Arrows needed to accelerate their growth.
Freshmen Julia Hanson, Dana Presnell and Nicole Momsen made the lineup most often, and Hanson and Presnell have helped the team's veteran players in their march through sectional and district competition on the way to Columbus.
"Because of our youth, it's tough," McGowan said. "If you look at the teams who have made it [to state], there aren't very many sophomores and there's only a few other freshmen."
The Arrows will play a practice round today at Ohio State University's Gray Course, then will be one of 12 girls teams to compete there in the two-round, 36-hole state tournament tomorrow and Saturday. Play both days begins at 8:30 a.m.
"Honestly, at the beginning of the season I didn't think we were going to make it because of all the freshmen we had," Sparagowski said. "But we all pulled together and obviously it's paid off because we made it to states."
Lambert was slightly more confident coming in.
"I knew all along that we could get this far," she said, "but I knew that a lot of it would rest on the freshmen's shoulders and how they reacted to varsity golf. They did an excellent job."
During the regular season the Arrows fared well locally in the Glass City Girls Golf Tour, finishing second in the 12-team northwest Ohio league behind state qualifier Lima Central Catholic.
Individually, Sparagowski, who is averaging 40 strokes per nine holes, and Fesh (43.7) joined two Lima CC players on the All-GCGGT first team.
In the 18-hole sectional tournament two weeks ago at Detwiler Golf Course, St. Ursula placed first as a team with a season-best team score of 331, with Sparagowski shooting 76, Hanson 84, Fesh 85 and Lambert 86. Each team's top four scores are figured into the team total.
In last week's district tournament, at Sycamore Springs in Kenton, the Arrows placed second behind Lima CC with a 371. Sparagowski shot 84, Fesh 88, Lambert 97 and Hanson 102. Only the top two teams from the Northwest district, plus two individuals from non-qualifying teams, advanced to state.
The Arrows' district score was ninth-best out of the 12 state-qualifying teams, but only one of the 12 features a younger lineup. West Chester Lakota West has two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen.
What are St. Ursula's chances of winning state?
"Every year there's a team that goes five or six deep with very high-level competitors," McGowan said. "If we play perfect, we can compete. But I just want to go down and have these girls do the best that they can.
"It's a great experience making it to the state. There's only 12 teams left, and we're there again. That alone is a heck of an accomplishment."
This tournament brings added pressure.
"State can be very nerve-wracking whether you're prepared or not," Lambert said. "I normally don't get nervous in front of people, and last year I was extremely nervous. We're telling these freshmen to go down and have fun. That's the most important thing."
Sparagowski, a four-year varsity veteran, is making her third trip to state with the Arrows. Her low 18-hole rounds for the season were a 74 at the Pickerington Invitational and a 76 at the Walsh Jesuit Invitational. She also carded a nine-hole round of 39 at Inverness Club.
"Angie is an outstanding golfer," McGowan said. "She hits her driver 260 yards, the 9-iron about 145, and she's a great putter. She was the Toledo Junior Golf Association player of the year, and she played all around the United States [since last fall]. She's literally a 365-day-a-year golfer. She puts the time in to be at the level she's at."
Sparagowski said she has received recruiting interest from Arizona State, Eastern Illinois and the College of Charleston.
Lambert, in her third varsity season, is making her second state trip, as is Fesh.
"Amanda is very reliable," McGowan said. "Every time she goes out you know what you're going to get. It's nice to have that at the top.
"Jordan is a great athlete. She also plays basketball, and she has played golf competitively since the seventh grade. She's been putting a lot of changes into her swing this year, but she still has been very consistent. She's very reliable at No. 2."
As for the freshmen, McGowan is optimistic about the future.
"Julia Hanson qualified fourth, and she's never given up the spot," the coach said. "She's been very solid. She's had to learn to grind it out over 18 holes. She would tire a bit earlier in the year, but we've spent time working on the mental strength you need to close out a round.
"Dana has worked harder than anybody on the team to be where she is. She's putting in the time and has really made the effort. Nicole Momsen has tremendous natural ability. She's a multi-sport athlete and she has tremendous hands. She might have the best short game on the team."
The only year the Arrows did not qualify for state since 1997 was in 2002. So what has been the secret to St. Ursula's ongoing golf success?
"A lot of good golfers," McGowan said. "We've got a long history of very good golfers, and I think they built a legacy and it gave us some leaders we needed early on."
Fesh will likely be the team leader next fall.
"It'll be tough to carry on what the previous years' teams have done," she said. "It's going to be hard to just pick that up and go with it. But we have a lot of strong freshmen who have a lot of potential.
"At the end of last year I was a little anxious about this year. I didn't know what we could come up with, and I didn't expect all these freshmen to come up. But they did, and everybody came through for us at districts. We should be strong in the next two or three years. It should be fun."
In addition to McGowan, the Arrows are also coached by varsity assistant Stephanie Young and junior varsity coach Heather Zielinski.
Young, a former University of Toledo player, is an assistant pro at Sylvania Country Club. Zielinski, who played on a Notre Dame Academy state championship team, played collegiately at Purdue. Her sister Brandi was the top player on SUA's 1999 state runner-up team.
Contact Steve Junga at: