By Kyle Shaner
VERSAILLES – In their third consecutive trip to the state tournament, the Versailles Lady Tigers are striving to reach heights unprecedented in their program’s history.
Versailles has qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II girls golf state tournament for the third consecutive time and fifth time in the past six years. They’ll compete on Friday and Saturday at The Ohio State University Gray Course in Columbus.
“I’m super excited,” junior Morgan Heitkamp said. “This was one of our goals this year, and it’s super awesome to be back there.”
The past two years the Tigers placed eighth in the state tournament, which is the best finish in program and Midwest Athletic Conference history. This time around they’d like to improve on that and move higher in the team standings.
“We’ve had rounds that have been extremely low, as low as we’ve been the past couple years,” Versailles girls golf coach Joe Harrmann said. “If we pop one of those in one of the state rounds I think that we’ve got a good shot at finishing higher than that for sure.”
Helping to give the Tigers confidence that they can improve on their previous success is their experience.
Versailles has three girls competing at the state golf tournament for a third time – senior Lauren Durham, senior Jorja Pothast and Heitkamp. Senior Anna Groff is competing in Columbus for the second time while junior Morgan Barlage gets to compete for the first time after being an alternate for the Lady Tigers the past two years.
“Seeing everybody else play kind of helps me know what to expect and (understand) the competition, the atmosphere, everybody there,” Barlage said.
Freshman Maddie Durham, the younger sister of Lauren Durham, will travel with Versailles as an alternate.
“It’s been really cool to have her throughout this experience, and it will be even more fun to have her there at state with us,” Lauren Durham said.
The state tournament is unlike any other tournament throughout the season, Harrmann said, which makes the Tigers’ experience invaluable.
“I don’t think you can really put it into words how valuable it is,” he said. “Having four girls that have all played it before in practice rounds and competition rounds is going to hopefully be a really good thing for the team.”
Versailles already has seen the benefits of its experience. Lauren Durham, Heitkamp and Pothast were part of the 2015 team that shot a 762 across the two days of the state tournament. They returned last year to help the Tigers improve their team score by 21 strokes.
The Tigers would like to see even more improvement this year, though they’re trying not to stress about that and instead focusing on enjoying the experience.
“Like the rest of the team, I just want to play well and have fun with the girls,” Groff said.
Though it’s become commonplace for the Lady Tigers to make it to state, the thrill of competing in Columbus hasn’t dissipated.
“It’s amazing,” Lauren Durham said. “I don’t take it for granted. We get a lot of support for a small golf team in this town, and it’s so cool. I love it, and I’ve loved everything about golfing for Versailles.”
Pothast said she actually appreciates the accomplishment even more now than she did the first time she went to the state tournament.
“It wasn’t really anything different (back then),” she said. “Now I’m like very thankful that we get to go back.”
Versailles will begin this year’s state tournament 9 a.m. Friday in Columbus. The Lady Tigers will tee off from the 10th hole along with Milan Edison and St. Henry.
“I’m just really happy for the girls and all the hard work they’ve put in over the last three, four years,” Harrmann said. “To be consistently ranked as one of the best teams in the state is obviously a great thing.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.