Manifest dynasty: Charger golf repeats as state champs
The Corner Canyon girls golf team stand behind their 4A state championship trophy. (Aimee Kartchner/Corner Canyon girls golf)
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They did it again.
Corner Canyon girls golf team made history a year ago by winning the school’s first (high school sanctioned) state championship. They made history again on May 16 by repeating as the 4A state champions.
“Honestly, it was kind of almost unreal that we won it again,” said junior Makenna Kartchner a few days after the euphoric celebrations.
Being a repeat made it all the sweeter for junior Cristi Ciasca.
“To do it two times in a row, it’s something that you don’t come by a lot so it’s great to be able to have that experience,” she said. She later added, “That’s really exciting being able to represent our school that way.”
Five girls finished in the top 21, making them runaway winners by 17 points over closest challenger Alta.
Even though the Chargers won by double digits, it wasn’t without a few nerves on day two of the tournament. After some uncharacteristic double and triple bogeys, head coach Ryan Kartchner said the weight of expectations may have started to reach the girls.
“(It) was a little nerve racking more so than last year, but it was pretty exciting and still fun for the girls. It was fun to see them in that situation,” said Ryan, also the head pro at Hidden Valley Country Club and father to Makenna.
Junior Emma Winfree, who finished tied for third, said she was nervous throughout both days, including her even par round on day one.
“There’s always a little bit of pressure, but (it’s about) just trying to keep calm and keep doing as good as I can,” Winfree said.
May 16 also doubled as Winfree’s birthday with her describing the championship as “a pretty good birthday present.”
The school was in full support mode with the athletic director, assistant principal and principal — in addition to the students who were excused from school to come watch — all present for the memorable day.
“A lot of people came out, it had a different feel. It was a repeat for one, and everybody wanted to see that happen,” Ryan said.
Target on their backs
It was mid-April when the Chargers lost a region tournament to their friendly rivals at Alta. If it wasn’t a turning point in their season, the six-stroke loss certainly poked the bear.
“It just made us want (the state title) even harder. It just pushed us even more and made us work even harder,” Winfree said.
With Corner Canyon taking state last year by a whopping 33 points, the team knew they had a target on their backs coming into the year, something they relished.
“I always told the girls it’s fun to be part of everyone else’s goals,” Ryan said.
But the third-year head coach knew teams weren’t going to roll over and give them the trophy.
“Even though we knew we were still probably the favorites and still a really, really good team going in, we needed to get better no matter what,” Ryan said.
What made the repeat possible
Every winning team is the result of some lucrative concoction. For the Chargers girls golf team, it was a combination of mental fortitude, personal improvement, coaching and team chemistry.
In addition to team practices, the girls had individual sessions with Ryan at Hidden Valley where they could set goals and see what each could improve upon for tournament play.
“They all have a pretty good golf sense and golf mind,” he said of the players. “They have great swings, but where they’ve improved the most this year is the short game and the mental side.”
And, in a sport like golf, the mental game is as crucial as the athletic game.
“It’s amazing how you can have the golf game and the skill but if you don’t have that mental strength as well then it’s hard for you to shoot good scores,” said Makenna, who played the state tournament with a knee brace after hyperextending her knee while cheerleading.
The team is notorious for their bus rides filled with dancing and rapping to old-school hip-hop. Team sleepovers and team dinners are common throughout the season to help enhance that crucial team chemistry.
“It all just comes so naturally,” Winfree said of the camaraderie. “We all just love each other, want the best for each other, support each other, are proud of each other when we do good.”
It appears the team has struck the sweet spot between focused preparation and rambunctious enjoyment.
“We take it seriously on the course, but off the course at practices we joke around and try to get everyone laughing. It’s just super fun,” Makenna said. That camaraderie extends beyond the Chargers golf team as well.
The golf team shares its bus rides with Alta, engaging in multiple friendly matches between them, and friendships have blossomed.
“Those girls are honestly some of the best girls I’ve ever met. They’re our biggest competition but they’re also our favorite girls to play with, to talk to,” Makenna said.
The connection even includes a group text between the teams titled “Alta Canyon” where they send funny pictures and discuss school and boys.
After the state tournament, the champs and runners-up took pictures with each other on the 18th green.
“Girls golf is such a small world … it’s way fun, it’s in a good spot at least in this part of the valley,” Ryan said.
The Chargers won their second state title with four juniors and two sophomores, meaning the core of this legend-building team returns next year for a potential three-peat. It begs the question, is a girls golf dynasty forming at Corner Canyon?
“I’ve joked that we have a little bit of a UConn womens basketball-like dynasty brewing here. We’re obviously a long ways down the road from something like that,” Ryan said. “Obviously, we’ll be on the top of everyone’s lists going in but we’ll get better.”
Ciasca said they’re working hard to start that dynasty.
“Next year we have a good shot, and we have a lot of girls who have the drive that want to win the championship. I think that (drive) will be good to introduce to the new players to carry it on later after our graduating class,” she said.
Beginning the 2016 season with six girls, the team has blossomed to 14, with success begetting more interest.
Winning state despite the girls feeling like they didn’t play their best — various players hitting triple and double bogeys on the final day — may not bode well for those chasing the Chargers.
“It shows our hard work and how much it pays off and it shows how great our coaching staff is and how much they do for us; how much we support each other in our team chemistry being so good. I think it all plays a big part,” Winfree said.
“We’re just really proud of ourselves,” Winfree continued. “We knew that we could do it all along but just actually knowing now makes it that much better. We’re hoping to do it for a third time next year and we’re starting to prepare for that already.”
And with coaches like Ryan and assistant Lexi Gagon, the girls feel like they’re in good hands.
“We love both of the coaches so much and they make such a great impact on our game and how we do,” Winfree said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”