High School Sports

St. James wins 3-A girls golf title at Port Royal; Hilton Head 4th

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the St. James girls' golf team this year was simply keeping expectations tempered.

Hey, with everybody returning from last year's Class AAA runners-up, a championship was rather easy to envision. But it's not what anyone in the Sharks' inner circle wanted to hear.

"Everyone kept telling us, 'You're a shoo-in. You're going to win,'" coach Denise Noll recalled. "Nope, it's got to be one match at a time. Finally once we got to this weekend, we said we were going to win."

They followed through, too. With emphasis.

Propelled by their extraordinary depth, the Sharks finished off their first state title in the sport Tuesday by holding off a dogged challenge from Victoria Huskey and her Travelers Rest teammates, emerging with a seven-shot triumph at Port Royal Golf Club.

Despite a series of passing showers on the Barony course -- but not the gusty winds that marked Monday's opening round -- all five St. James players shot 87 or better on the final day. Toss out that 87, and the Sharks counted nothing higher than an 82.

Tuesday's team score of 320 left St. James with a 654 total. Travelers Rest, paced by Huskey's 4-under-par 68 that produced a second straight individual crown, carded a second-day 321 to finish at 661.

"We've been stressing that all year -- our team is deep," said Noll. "We don't need to rely on one player or two players. ... One (score Tuesday) stayed the same and one went up a few, but the others went down a ton."

Hilton Head Island placed fourth, with Tuesday's 345 showing the third-best improvement from Day 1. That left the Seahawks at 705, enough to move past Wren into the top four. Meredith Wipper led the way with a 75, finishing sixth among individuals, and Emma Hayward's 81 was a 10-shot improvement from Monday.

"They put in the work today and it showed," said coach Rawn Grant. "They were a little down (after Day 1), but I'm really proud of how they bounced back. I just told them to believe in yourself; just let it go."

Huskey's 68 not only was the only sub-70 round of the tournament, allowing her to storm back from a three-shot deficit in the individual competition, it marked the first time she'd ever gone an entire round without a bogey.

"It means a lot, because I've worked for this," said the Travelers Rest senior, who on Monday called her opening 78 the worst round of her year. "Yesterday I thought I'd fallen out of it. I knew I had to come on strong."

Huskey's closest call came on the 10th hole, where she hooked her drive into the water left of the fairway. After the penalty, though, she striped her approach in the rain to 15 feet and drained the putt.

"She was driven," Travelers Rest coach Elizabeth Nix said. "When it's time to take care of business, that's her agenda and she handles it. I've never really seen a player like her."

Tuesday's victory also allowed Huskey to match her brother, current USC golfer Keenan Huskey, with two state championships. Keenan Huskey, by the way, claimed medalist honors honors Monday as the Gamecocks won the Camden Collegiate Invitational.

Beth Ann Townsend, No.2 for Travelers Rest, also improved 13 shots from her opening round. But the Lady Devildogs could not close the gap on St. James.

Freshman Smith Knaffle paced the Sharks with scores of 75-78, while senior Kelli Smith posted a pair of 79s to join her teammate on the Class 3-A All-State team. Jordan White, Steely Hays and Katie Smith, meantime, combined for a 17-shot improvement over the first day.

"All those middle girls beating their (counterparts) made all the difference," Noll said.

Tuesday's trophy completed a steady rise from a St. James program that didn't reach the state final until four years ago. The Sharks placed 11th that year, then rose to third in 2013 and runner-up last year.

"It's amazing," said Kelli Smith, who along with fellow senior Hays has been part of the team going back to seventh grade.

"When we first started, we won maybe one match all year. So it's really cool to see how it's grown over the years. All of us have worked really hard. It was such a team effort. It was crazy."