It wasn’t the perfect start they got last season, but those closest to the O’Fallon girls’ golf program wonder if this isn’t the best team in the school’s history.
O’Fallon won 12 straight tournaments to kick off the 2016 season, but a highly-competitive schedule — “the toughest schedule I can find,” said coach Chris Eddy — has tested the mettle of this year’s Panthers. They’re passing with flying colors.
The Panthers have lost only to reigning Missouri Class 2 state champion St. Joseph’s Academy and Class 1 state champion Cape Girardeau-Notre Dame and will be challenged in the next week at the Edwardsville Invitational.
“Dan (May) has been coaching golf at O’Fallon for 36 years and he says this is the best team he’s ever seen at O’Fallon — and he means boys or girls,” Eddy said. “This team has many very good players and we’ve shot some very low scores and played well in all of our tournaments. But we, and I mean the coaching staff and the girls, are not satisfied.”
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Led by the record-setting play of senior Alyssa McMinn and Emily Marrs, the Panthers have established themselves again this season.
O’Fallon won seven tournament championships in the first month of the season. Led by McMinn, who set a new school record with a 9-hole average of 38.1, O’Fallon has six players averaging between 38.1 and 41, and last week wrapped up a share of the Southwestern Conference championship with a 6-0 dual match record.
In their conference finale at Arlington Greens Golf Course on Wednesday, O’Fallon had four players shoot rounds of 38 or better as they broke the girls’ school nine-hole record with a score of 147. The previous mark was 153.
“Two years ago when we went to the state tournament, we lost several players from that team and people thought we wouldn’t be as good the following (last) year. But with our program, we have girls in it who want to be successful and are willing to put in the time into doing so,” Eddy said. “But we also have a great coaching staff that is willing to help our girls with their games.
“We have five seniors on this team this year. But I think we’ve got the type of players and girls who will work hard in the off-season to where we will continue to be successful in the future.”
For the 2017 Panthers, the future is now. Six golfers on the team have shot top-four rounds more than once.
“Everybody has off days, but when that’s happened, we’ve had other girls step in with a good score,” Eddy said.
Marrs agrees with her coach that the secret of the Panthers’ record-breaking success is rooted in team depth.
“Is this the best team I have played on? Yes. No question,” Marrs said. “What set us apart from the last two years is that we’ve got six players who can shoot and most of the time, we have shot good scores each time we’ve played. We’re close team as well. But we’re also competitive with each other.”
O’Fallon will host the Class AA Regional Tournament at Tamarack Golf Course in Shiloh on Oct. 4 then will travel to Springfield to play in the IHSA Springfield Sectional at Panther Creek Country Club. Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin will have the advantage of playing on its home course for the second year in a row.
“It’s a great golf course. My question is how they get to host the sectional again. Two years in a row?” Eddy said with a smile. “If we play like we can and have all year ... we’ll be fine. But the girls know they’ve got a huge target on their backs. We just need to stay focused and play our game.”
The top three teams advance to the Class AA State Girls Tournament on Oct. 13-14 at Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur. O’Fallon placed 12th in the state finals two years ago and was 10th last season. But the Panthers’ score of 652 was 90 strokes better than they had shot in 2015.
“If you look at the scores from year to year, in normal tournaments the 652 would have typically placed us in the top five. Last year the team scores were very low,” Eddy said. “Are we capable of being in the top three and winning a trophy this year? Yes, we are. ... But we have to get there first.”