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Friday, October 5, 2018

Highlands Boys Golf Tees Off in State Tournament

Bluebirds Aim for Better Finish This Year

Twitter Photo. The Highlands golf team gets some work in during a recent practice. The state tournament at Bowling Green Country Club starts Friday at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Maturity and experience can't be emphasized enough.

The Highlands Bluebirds golf team qualified for the state tournament a year ago with a runner-up finish in the 8th Region Golf Tournament. The Bluebirds did it this year by winning the 8th Region crown at AJ Jolly Golf Course a little more than a week ago with a 293 score. Grant County finished runner-up with 307 strokes. The state tournament starts Friday at Bowling Green Country Club at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Highlands starts at hole one at approximately 8:45 a.m. EST.

Of the 24 region champions and runner-up squads, only half make it to the second day. Highlands did not make that cut last year shooting a 331 on the first day. But sophomore Justin Gabbard shot a 74 on the par-72 course to make the cut of 20 individuals not on one of the top 12 teams to miss the cut. Gabbard shot a two-day total of 150 to finish tied for 20th individually at the state tournament.

Barre3 Ft. Thomas. Located in Fort Thomas Plaza. 
Highlands returns three players from last year's state tournament team. They are senior Ryan Leigh, Gabbard and sophomore Luke Muller.

"Last year, I think we were more nervous just to be playing and not focused on actually making the cut," Leigh said. "This year, we know what the state tournament is all about so we're ready and we're actually focused on making the cut this year. It's a lot different than normal matches. There are a lot more people and they announce your name. It's a lot more nerve-racking."

But this will be the first appearance at the state tournament for senior Highlands senior Brady Walz and eighth grader Joel Craft. Gabbard won medalist honors shooting a 70 to win the region tournament. Muller shot a 71 and Leigh a 72. Craft finished off the scoring with an 80 at the region tournament.

"I'm sure the first hole or two, they'll have the normal nerves," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "The tough thing about it in golf is your teammates can't save you. You have to go play. In other sports to get your nerves, you can defer to people that are more experienced. They're going to have to get going from the first tee, find some confidence and put a good score up."

Making the cut is the last of the final goals for the Bluebirds. They achieved the other two in winning region and the Northern Kentucky Division II title.

Highlands had the second-best score of all the state qualifying teams. Only defending state champion Lexington Christian came in with a lower team score of 287. State power Louisville St. Xavier shot a 294 to win the Region 6 crown. Highlands will be golfing at the same holes with St. Xavier and LCA.

"No matter what happens, the great thing is we're going to get an unbelievable experience playing in the group we're playing with," Richey said. "Eight of the last 10 state champions are between St. X and LCA. We're going to be playing with the elite so it's going to give our kids a lot of experience for years to come."

Highlands played at the Bowling Green Invitational on Sept. 8 at Bowling Green Country Club. The Bluebirds finished fifth facing state tournament qualifiers Taylor County, Marshall County, Louisville Ballard and St. Xavier.

"So our kids should have some confidence knowing we can compete with a lot of the teams that are at the state tournament this week," Richey said. "We just have to make sure that we don't get caught up trying to play the same game that St. X and LCA play. We have to play our game and stick to our game plan. At the end, they write numbers down on a scorecard. They don't draw pictures of how you do it. We just have to stay to our plan and execute it."

Craft said the course has its challenges. His teammates have said to hit the ball straight, keep it in the fairways and keep it below the hole. Craft recently tied for third in the middle school championships shooting a 74.

"The course is tight and there are a lot of places you know that you shouldn't go. Now that we've played (there), we know where those spots are," Craft said. "There are a lot of trees, big roughs and tight fairways. The greens are extremely fast."

A team from the northern three counties in Kentucky has not won the state tournament since 1984. Covington Catholic won it that year and won its other crown in 1969.

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