GIRLS STATE GOLF: GC going after gold

The last time Rick Schupbach’s squad competed on the American Legion Memorial Golf Course, he wasn’t real excited with the results.

Yet the Grundy Center girls’ golf coach knew the experience would only help his then-shorthanded team come June.

Six weeks after the Linda Bloom Invitational and back at full strength, the Spartans looked every bit the part of the defending state champs Monday.

Senior Hillary Samo and junior Josie McMartin each shot a 13-over 84 to tie for third individually as Grundy Center claimed a commanding 14-stroke lead after the first round of the Class 1A Girls State Golf Tournament.

New London (369), which finished fifth a year ago, holds a two-shot edge over 2013 runner-up Bishop Garrigan, while Akron Westfield (387) and Newell-Fonda (403) complete the top five. Bishop Garrigan’s Alexa Capesius is positioned to defend her individual crown as she shares the lead with North Linn’s Jessica Franson at 76.

While still windy like that blustery April morning on the Marshalltown course, nearly everything else felt different for the Spartans as they put themselves in position for an Iowa-best 13th state title.

But Schupbach sure doesn’t forget the benefits from that early-season exam.

“That was really beneficial for us and we also played some really good competition,” Schupbach said. “Josie wasn’t playing at that time since she was still coming off her knee surgery and that gave some of the younger girls a chance to play the course and that helped them as well.”

Current Class 5A leader Waukee came away with the Linda Bloom title, while six other squads also finished ahead of the Spartans that day, though Schupbach’s group still accrued the necessary seasoning to prepare them for postseason play.

“The key was to get down here and play an 18-hole round against some really great competition,” Schupbach said. “It does nothing but prepare you when you come back and play it again. Along with our practice rounds, we feel pretty comfortable here.”

The Spartans looked prepared throughout the lineup.

Linsday Freeman added a 92 and freshman Abby Hockemeyer tallied a 95 to complete the Spartans’ team tally. Maddy Grineski’s 99 would have scored for any other team in the field, while Kate Ross was close behind at 101.

“I’m very happy with how the girls responded today,” Schupbach said. “You can’t win it on the first day, but you can lose it.”

Returning four players from last year’s championship squad, the Spartans had a few hiccups on the day but didn’t allow anything to snowball. Samo had some early adversity on her opening hole as she hit into the water on No. 5 but regrouped before picking things up down the stretch.

“I didn’t start off the greatest but my back nine was a lot better than my front nine,” said Samo, who also appreciated the previous experience on the course. “Mr. Schupbach always tries to get us in tournaments that will help us for tournament time. Playing here at state last year and a couple other times really helped us with knowing the course.”

Schupbach isn’t worried about his team getting too comfortable with the lead as the focus will remain on the next shot and not the next team on the leaderboard.

“We’re not going to be playing against anybody else, we’re going to be playing against that golf course,” he said. “And if we play like we did today, we’re going to be in control of our own destiny.”

Bishop Garrigan coach Dean Capesius wasn’t sure what destiny awaited his team when he started the season with just a pair of established golfers on the tradition-rich program.

“When we take a look at how we started the season and where we’re at now, most people probably wouldn’t have thought that Bishop Garrigan would have been a part of the postseason or especially the state meet,” Capesius said. “To be here and to even be competitive, it’s very gratifying.”

Outside of Dean’s daughter, Alexa, and junior Brittany Arndorfer, the Golden Bears were working from scratch.

One by one, they found the necessary pieces to field a squad. Freshman Chloe Garman and junior Emily Berte, each without any previous golf experience, joined the team and junior Emily Marlow, who hadn’t toured the links since sixth grade, opted for golf over softball.

“There was a lot of team building,” coach Capesius said. “They had to work on their games and have confidence as a team that they had the ability to do things together to produce a score that was even competitive.”

Things didn’t start out pretty as the Golden Bears finished their first meet with a nine-hole score of 237. A couple months removed from that debut, Bishop Garrigan is now in contention for a repeat runner-up finish, while a title isn’t completely out of the question.

Alexa Capesius is the lone senior of the squad and while she’s vying for a second straight individual state title, serving as the leader of this year’s green group has been just as important to her.

“There’s definitely more on my shoulders because now I’m the leader of this group, but it’s been a great season and I’m glad that I could be a leader for them,” said Alexa Capesius, who struggled a bit with her driver and putter on Monday. “Chipping was probably the most solid part of my game today. My driver just wasn’t working like I wanted it to and my putting definitely needs some work.”

Capesius and Franson own an eight-stroke lead on Grundy Center’s top tandem. New London’s Emma Pry and Gehlen Catholic’s Hannah Sitzmann are knotted in fifth at 85 and HLV’s Taylor Tanner sits sixth at 86. Brittany Norem of Dunkerton and Carly Jacobs each fired a first round 89 to tie for eighth, while four others are locked at 90.

Second round action starts today at 9 a.m.