PANORA — Waukee’s road to the first Class 5A golf championship was a soggy, rain-shortened affair.
While the sun was shining brightly at Lake Panorama National Resort on May 28, the saturated ground from previous storms made an already difficult course even more challenging. Tee shots clunked into the turf and stopped, instead of skittering forward, and pin placements were moved to higher ground to deal with the onslaught of rain.
"The course, in general, kind of took it to the girls," said coach Marty Sullivan, whose team won the 4A crown last year. "We knew it was going to be soft, and we wouldn’t be able to roll as much. Our advantage was we had some long hitters who could carry it 200 yards and from that distance, we could do some attacking on the holes."
Despite the conditions, Waukee came away with a 15-stroke lead over Pleasant Valley, 325-340, after the first round.
Players, coaches and officials were gathered at the pre-round meeting the following day when lightning was spotted, leading to a 30-minute weather delay that never lifted. After repeatedly pushing back the start time, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union officials ultimately decided to cancel the second day of play, giving Waukee the championship.
It was a far cry from 2012, when the Warriors rallied back in historic fashion on the second day to win the Class 4A crown, but still a momentous occasion.
"It was a really cool feeling again," Sullivan said. "It wasn’t as shocking as last year, storming back from that deficit, but we were very happy with it."
Waukee junior Kelsy Shay, who carded a 4-over 76, shared medalist honors with Pleasant Valley’s Anna Cullinan. Shay was 7-over par after her first seven holes, but shined by carding five birdies in her final seven holes, including four of the last five.
"She’s obviously matured as a golfer," Sullivan said of Shay. "In years past, her emotions could get the best of her and it would carry over from hole to hole. It was pretty cool to see how she finished. Those are the toughest four or five holes on the course."
Paige Seiser finished fourth with an 80, parring 10 holes and wrapping up a stellar freshman campaign that saw her capture a coveted spot in the Warrior varsity lineup.
"She was hitting everything very well, but just couldn’t get a putt to drop," Sullivan said. "She’s a very calm competitor. Watching her, you wouldn’t know if she’s shooting 70 or 80. She is very composed."
Payton Minear capped her senior season with a 10th-place finish, shooting an 80. The 2012 individual champion worked hard to return from elbow surgery, enduring months of physical therapy, and finally got the go-ahead from her doctors at the end of April to return to play.
"I’m so proud of her," Sullivan said. "We were thinking at the beginning of the season that she probably wouldn’t be back."
Jasmine Wyzgowski finished in a four-way tie for 12th with an 85. Brittany Best carded a 90 to finish 21st, and Caitie Oder finished 33rd with a 95.
Sullivan felt confident in his team’s chances entering the second day. It wasn’t that a 15-stroke lead was insurmountable — Waukee overcame an 11-stroke deficit to win the 4A title in 2012 — but in the abilities and approaches of his players. After a five-hour first round, the Warriors took a bus back home, stepped off and promptly went back to work. Seiser and Minear attacked the practice greens, and Oder went to the driving range.
"Every one of our girls got off that bus, went home and went to the club or the range," Sullivan said. "The comfort I had was our team was going to be really prepared (for Wednesday). Someone would have to shoot unbelievably well to beat us."
The Warriors will say goodbye to seniors Minear and Best, as well as Hannah Dammen and Allie Oder, who have been valuable contributors over the past several years and played on last year’s championship team. But the talent and depth of the program will have Waukee as a perennial favorite for years to come.
"Success breeds success," Sullivan said. "The (younger) girls watch and see what (others) are doing to make themselves better and how they approach practice. A lot of girls have matured in the management part of the game and in trying to be the best they can be."