Two years removed from competition, the 2021 Durant girls’ golf team began the spring with a goal in mind — reach the state tournament. It was realistic, but wouldn’t be easy. And it was the same goal that would have been set in 2020, when all of spring sports were lost due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 Wildcats had experience and senior leadership in the trio of Belle Rockow, Makenna Buesing and Emily Huston.
Other team members playing at state included juniors Karissa Hoon, Kiley Stineman and Rebecca Paustian.
Competing in Class 1A, the Durant girls played some of their best golf at pivotal times, winning their first round Regional, and finishing runner-up in the Regional final to secure a spot at the state golf tournament at Ames Golf & Country Club June 1-2.
The Wildcats finished ninth of 10 teams at state, with a 2-day team total of 816 (414, 402).
Bishop Garrigan won the team title with a 2-day total of 671 (342, 329). Central Lyon was runner-up with 745 (377, 368) and Grundy Center was third with 762 (372, 390).
“We made it in 2015 and didn’t want to finish last, and we got seventh of eight teams. This year the same, we got ninth of 10 teams,” said Durant head coach Denise Ahrens. “Our team did well and we improved (in round two).”
If the Wildcats hadn’t lost the last year of competition, Ahrens wondered if the team could have done even better. “I felt out team needed that year of competition. We could have been a lot better. But they still played a lot in that time, but competition is different. I’m very happy we got here this year, it was good. We had good scores.”
Greenlee Smock of Lynnville-Sully won the individual state championship with a 2-day total of 154 (77, 77).
Belle Rockow led the Wildcats from the No. 1 position, with a 2-day total of 190 (93, 97). Her first day score of 93 was just one stroke off her personal best, set in Regionals. Rockow finished in a tie for 26th place overall in the standings.
“We started with the goal of making it here. The season was a little rocky, we were up and down. But we made it here and it was cool to know that we deserved to be here as a top 10 team in the state,” said Rockow. “We could have had a chance last year too with Ellie Olsen on the team. That could have been another year here. But we did play over (COVID-19) quarantine and did get better.”
Despite the rocky year as Rockow described it, she played her best rounds in Regionals and state. “I don’t mind pressure. I’m just always trying to figure out what my shot is doing,” she said. “It was surreal to play well in round one and be in the top 25.”
“It was her goal to get here. She worked hard at it, and it was good for the seniors that we got here,” said head coach Denise Ahrens.
Karissa Hoon finished in a tie for 44th overall with a 2-day total of 202 (104, 98). Makenna Buesing finished 53rd overall with a 2-day score of 211 (112, 99). Emily Huston finished in a tie for 56th overall with a 2-day score of 213 (105, 108). Kiley Stineman finished 65th with a 2-day total of 225 (117, 108). Rebecca Paustian finished 69th with a 2-day score of 232 (115, 117).
Hoon, who didn’t start golfing until her freshman year, said, “It was amazing to get here. I started golfing my freshman year and then during sophomore year we were shut down due to COVID. But it’s cool that we had a year without coaching and then came back and made it to state.”
Hoon will likely be the team’s top golfer next season. “Moving to No. 2 this year helped, so it shouldn’t be as tough next year moving to No. 1.”
For senior Makenna Buesing, she called playing at state “such a good experience” in a sport she’s been working hard at to improve.
“This experience was icing on the cake to high school. Being able to golf at state in a sport I love to play and enjoy makes me so happy,” Buesing said. “I was starting to get teary-eyed on the last hole.”
The trip to state was the first for the Wildcat girls’ golf program since 2015 — head coach Denise Ahrens’ first year as head coach. The tournament was also played in Ames that season.