SOUTHERN PINES — Something almost unthinkable is within the grasp of the Mount Airy golf team.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association doesn’t conduct a separate 1A state championship tournament or meet in certain non-revenue sports where relatively few 1A schools compete, such as golf and swimming. These teams are forced to compete for a state championship in a 1A/2A meet. Such championships are almost always won by large 2A schools.
On a Monday evening at the Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines, with overcast skies, a cold front looming and swirling winds, the Lady Bears stared down the odds and out-performed a slew of 2A teams to claim second place in the team standings with one day left to play.
Junior Alyssa Cox, the two-time Northwest 1A Conference Player of the Year and last year’s unofficial 1A “state champion,” has a chance to repeat the feat. Cox shot 43-39 — 82 on the 5.566-yard, par-72 course and is tied for fourth overall with Alexis Jarrell of Community School of Davidson, who shot 40-42 on the day. Three golfers from 2A schools are ahead of Cox and Jarrell, one of whom is Mallory Fobes of Forbush, who shot 41-37 — 78 and is in third place.
However, the bigger news is that the Lady Bears, as a team, have a chance to win the actual state championship and not just the moral victory of being the best 1A team. Currituck County, a member of the Northeastern Coastal 2A Conference, leads the championship with a score of 273. The Knights were led by a stellar outing from Bailee Twiford, who shot 75 on Monday, with her two teammates both around the 100 mark.
Mount Airy shot 283, 10 strokes behind, and the Lady Bears are nine up on third-place West Davidson. The closest 1A team to the Lady Bears is East Wilkes, 19 shots back in fourth place at 302. Both of those schools beat the Lady Bears in the Central Regional last week.
“We had a really good day today,” said head coach Tommye Phillips. “There are so many good teams here, and we’re fortunate to be in second place.”
Cox’ round was highlighted by her performance on the course’s longest hole, the par-5 14th, measured at 487 yards on Monday. Cox made birdie-4 on this hole, and it was this that allowed her to catch Jarrell as the low 1A performer. The CSD golfer made triple-bogey 8 on 14.
Freshman Mattie Noonkester shot 48-47 — 95 for Mount Airy, and Bailey Flippen came in at 52-54 — 106. They will look to chop some strokes off their score today and hope that Currituck, which won the East Regional tournament, slips a bit.
“We’re looking forward to playing tomorrow,” said Phillips.
A few other local golfers are taking part in the tournament as individuals. Ellie Kidd of Surry Central shot 46-48 — 94 on Monday, and her Lady Eagle teammate Savanah Atkins came in at 47-53 — 100. Madison Bowman of East Surry qualified and shot 42-59 — 101.
If Mount Airy finishes as the low-scoring school among the 1A teams but finishes behind a 2A team, it won’t officially be crowned a state champion, but will be treated as such for the purposes of the all-sports Wells Fargo Cup, in which the Granite Bears are the defending Cup holders.
The playing conditions are expected to be very different tomorrow, with sunny skies and a projected high of 71.
As one of the top contenders for the state championship, the Lady Bears will some of the last golfers to tee off today. All three Mount Airy golfers are starting on hole 1, beginning with Flippen at 10:40 a.m. Noonkester will follow at 10:50, followed by Cox at 11. Each will be paired with one golfer each from Currituck and West Davidson.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.