Seniors Lydia Triplett and Evan Ball are heading to the state tournament for the third time in their four-year high school careers, while junior Emily Massengill will be playing in the highest level since she took up the sport.
Both Triplett and Ball fired 160 totals in last fall’s state event, earning her a tie for sixth, while he finished in 22nd place.
“I’m proud of all three of them,” proclaimed Wildcat links coach Jason Adams, who has had either an individual or team in each of the last four state championships. “Although it would have been nice to have one or both of our teams qualify, I had no doubt Lydia and Evan would be going again. To have Emily join them is great.”
After winning the district title by three strokes over Boyd-Buchanan two weeks ago at Bear Trace, Triplett and Massengill just missed going as a team when they lost the region title to the same team by a single stroke on a soggy Valleybrook course last week.
Earning all-state honors last year for her sixth place finish, Triplett is hoping to be in the hunt for the individual state title this time around.
“I feel like I have a pretty good chance to compete for the (state) title,” she expressed. “I’ve played the WillowBrook course several times and I feel like my game is where it needs to be.”
Gaining plenty of valuable experience during the summer by playing in big tournaments, including winning a flight championship at the Tennessee Women’s State Amateur, Triplett is no stranger to the level of competition she will face this week.
Triplett will be grouped with the only four girls in the state to break 80 in the region tournaments for Tuesday’s opening round. Going off the No. 10 tee at 10:20 a.m., she is paired with CAK’s Sophia Schubert, Jessica Zweifel from Page and Union City’s Mollie Stone. Schubert fired a 70 in her region tournament, Zweifel shot 77, while Triplett and Stone both carded 79s.
Although she earned low-medalist honors at the Region 3 A-AA event, Triplett’s 7-over-par score included her taking a 9 on the par 4 12th hole after a pair of penalty strokes.
“What I liked about that was after having such a bad hole, I parred out the rest of the way,” Triplett related. “I need to avoid having a bad hole, but if I do, I have to get past it and move to the next hole.”
“WillowBrook has a stretch of four holes (13, 14, 15 and 16) that is known as ‘The Triangle’ that are very tight holes with a lot of out of bounds,” explained coach Adams. “If you can play par on those four holes, then you’re going to have a great shot at winning the state title.”
“I will have to focus on what I need to do on each hole and not make any big mistakes,” commented Triplett, who will have some college coaches’ attention as she plays. “The coach from Middle Tennessee came to see me at the region and said they’d be at the state, as well as the coach from Tennessee Tech.”
While Triplett made the state tournament field as a freshman, as well as last year, Ball will be playing in his third straight TSSAA Championship.
After posting an 81-79 at last year’s state event, Ball carded a 5-over 77 at a WillowBrook tournament during the regular season.
“I feel like WillowBrook fits my game well,” he stated. “It has some open fairways on the front, but there are a few holes on the back that are trouble.”
Going off the 10th tee in the second group Tuesday morning, Ball will be playing with a pair of fellow Region 3 competitors in Sequoyah’s Ben Brackett and Paul Houck of McMinn Central. The trio tied with the third-lowest scores at the region tournament and had to battle in a playoff for the order of medalist honors. Covington’s Tommy Beasley will make up the fourth for the opening 18 holes.
"While I don’t have specific goals for the tournament, I want to score the best I can,” Ball expressed. “A Top 10 finish (all-state) would be nice, but as long as I play my best, I’ll be happy.”
Both Ball and Triplett are thankful for their opportunity to have played golf for Polk County and coach Adams.
“I’m really sad that this is going to be my last (high school) tournament. I’m going to miss it,” proclaimed Ball. “It has meant a lot for me to play for coach Adams. He has done a great job of improving our program.”
“It really hasn’t sunk into me yet that this will be my last high school tournament,” add Triplett. “It’s been great playing for coach Adams. Sometime next week (after the tournament) it will probably hit me.”
As far as advice she has for Massengill on playing in her first state tournament, Triplett said, “Get ready for a whole new atmosphere. It will be a lot of stress, but it will be fun and totally worth it.”
Coach Adams added, “I want Emily to enjoy it and not get too caught up in everything that will be going on with it. She’ll be wide-eyed, but it will be a great learning opportunity for her. Hopefully it will give her something to motivate her to work for again next year.”
“We have set some realistic goals for her for the tournament,” he added. “Her swing has improved so much from last year and she’s getting stronger. She’s been to Knoxville to take some lessons and she has played in several tournaments, but this will be a little different atmosphere for her.”
“Making the tournament is a tribute to how hard these kids have worked in the offseason,” the coach praised. “If the weather is nice, they are at Chatata Valley either on the course or the (driving) range all the time.”
The event’s final 18 holes will be played on Wednesday.