BATTLEGROUND -- Hey, roomie!
Taylor Skibinski and Lia Thomas were chatting a short distance apart outside the Battleground Golf Club pro shop following Saturday's Lafayette Jefferson Regional when the Michigan City pair smiled and waved at each other.
"I'm happy for Taylor," Thomas said after a career-best 73 took second place overall and qualified her for a second state finals tournament. "Either way, I was going to be happy for her, but I'm so glad I'm not going alone. We're going to have so much fun."
The golf, Friday and Saturday, will certainly be a big part of it, but the girls are looking forward to sharing a hotel room just as much, if not more.
"I'm excited to room with Lia," said Skibinski, whose 77 tied her for fourth individually.
Last year, Thomas became to first Wolves girls golfer to reach state. Now, the program is breaking more new ground in sending two.
"I've said it all season, they both belong at Prairie View, they're two of the best golfers in this part of the state," coach Drew White said. "I'm very happy they get to go down and showcase their skills on the state level. When I adopted the program, the resume' of Michigan City golf, after consolidation, was no success. I had three girls fighting to break 110. Seven years later, we've got two girls going to state. It's satisfying to know they both get the chance to play and represent Michigan City."
Saturday's performance was a redemptive one for Thomas, whose 87 in the sectional had gnawed at her for a week, not so much for the score, but for the manner in which she handled her struggles at Beechwood.
"I had a 100 percent better attitude than I've ever had on the course," Thomas said. "It showed in my score, it showed in everything. I really wanted to come back from sectionals. My shoulders were down, my attitude was bad, and that made it worse. You can't let something that you can control be a factor. No one should be able to know how you're playing by looking at you."
Thomas was an easy read coming off her final hole after a round of 17 pars and one bogey.
"She struggled at sectional last year, too, so you wonder if it's a matter of Beechwood maybe having her number," White said. "She won the Crown Point Invite, the DAC Invite. She beat all the (Duneland) kids here. She rises to the occasion. It was as steady of a round as she's ever had. Any golfer, not just a teenage girl, is going to be OK when things are going swimmingly, but what are they going to do when the wheels come of the bus? I'm happy she was able to get through and have a solid round."
All that separated Thomas from an even-par round was a bogey on the par-four 14th hole, where she barely missed an up-and-down, several of which she converted over the course of the day.
"Putting was a big part of it," she said. "I missed a lot of birdie putts but I had a lot of good par saves. There were some "boring" holes, fairways and greens, but I had a lot of pars where I had to recover, either a bad drive or punching out from behind trees, and I made up for it with my short game. I had some bad shots, but no bad holes."
Skibinski's finishing front-nine 37 included three birdies as she took advantage of both par fives.
"I was hitting it pretty good. My driving helped out a lot," she said. "I had a lot more accuracy and distance on the front. I had some good ups and down, chipping and one-putts. I just went hole to hole, moving forward. I was like, OK, just put up a solid score and you'll be good."
Not that Skibinski's round was drama-free. She incurred a two-stroke penalty on the sixth hole that kept her from going under par on the front.
"It was basically my doing," White said. "We were trying to find a rules official. I gave her some bad information. She placed her ball when it should have been dropped. It added a few tense moments. Nobody's happier than me that it didn't cost her going to state. She's just very, very steady. She's a big hitter for the tiny frame she has."
City finished sixth as a team at 364, one place better than a year ago.
New Prairie sisters Jordan and Jaiden Winters shot 92 and 97, respectively.
“Both girls shot a really nice round,” Cougars coach Bruce Watson said.
For Jordan, it was a dramatic improvement, 21 strokes to be exact, from last fall, when she carded a 113.
“Definitely much better,” Jordan said. “It was cool, both of us being down here. Last year, I had no idea what I was doing. My nerves weren’t as bad. I was more familiar with the course. There was one hole with water, I went it multiple times and I got like a 9 or 11 last year. This time, I parred it. If I did well enough (to advance), then great, but basically, I just wanted to make sure I was in the 90s or 80s and end the season well.”
After Jordan’s struggles of a season ago, Jaiden was encouraged by her round.
“I’ve done mini state and the junior tour, so I just tried to take it as something like that,” Jaiden said. “The girls I played with were really nice. Most of my shots usually go left and and they were mostly straight. The greens were pretty hard, but I putted pretty well. I wanted to take the round, especially as a freshman, as building for next year. I knew I didn’t really have a possibility of advancing to state, but that’s my goal for next year. I’m actually kind of happy Jordan beat me. After last year, I know she wanted to play better.”
Culver Academy, with medalist Reece Wilson (70), paced the qualifying teams at 331, followed by Lake Central (335) and Crown Point (338).
Top local finishers (overall)
2. Lia Thomas (Michigan City), 73, 4. (tie) Taylor Skibinski (Michigan City) 77