By ryan buck
Their goal, for an entire year, was an unspoken one. Silence, however, should not be mistaken for lack of vision.
The players on the Canfield girls golf team knew all along what they wanted and, just as important, they knew what it took to earn it.
A trip to the state golf tournament eluded them a year ago by one stroke at the Division I district tournament.
“That was the focus and the adrenaline rush that kicked us into gear,” said Canfield junior Kerra Loomis.
Their heartbreak of a year ago, and months of reflection and hard work, were redeemed last Monday as they qualified for the state tournament this weekend in Columbus.
“We really didn’t talk about it,” said Canfield coach Diane McCall, in her 17th year. “You don’t get there by talking about going to state, so much as putting in the work and the time and the effort into practicing the game. When it counted — in sectionals then to districts to get on out— they performed and accomplished that goal.”
McCall, who is leading her second Canfield squad to the state tournament, felt their pain that afternoon last year, but did not think it needed to be dwelled upon.
“To have missed by one stroke last year was devastating and, yes, I had many people say, ‘At least you’ve got them coming back next year,’ but that’s easier said than to always fulfill that goal,” McCall said. “I’m proud of them that they stayed on track to reach this destination.”
By the time area courses were playable, her team was at work.
“I think it motivated all of us this year to really come out and practice throughout the summer,” said Olivia DeMartino, one of two seniors on the team. “I think we all knew we all had confidence going into [the season].”
Canfield labored through a difficult early season schedule of 18-hole invitationals, in which the Cardinals traveled across Ohio for the best competition. When they returned home, they rolled through All-American Conference play undefeated before finishing second to Kent Roosevelt in the sectional at Tamer Win Golf & Country Club.
From there, camaraderie took over. The foursome of Loomis, DeMartino, Christina Cooper and Michele Whiteleather, along with fifth seed Kaci Carpenter, clinched the fifth spot and final state qualifying score in the district tournament with a combined 339 strokes.
“We have built a really tight bond and we realized that’s something we need to have to reach our goal,” Carpenter said.
The Cardinals will play at Ohio State’s Gray course. Seven of the 12 participants in last year’s state tournament return, including defending champion Dublin Jerome, top seed Dublin Coffman and Northeast district champion Kent Roosevelt.
“I’m just trying to stay calm and relaxed and think of it as just another tournament,” said Cooper, this year’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley junior champion. “Even though there’s the name ‘State’ attached to it, I’m still trying to finish strong. I think the biggest challenge is going to be to stay focused and the winner’s going to be whoever has the best mindset and who’s playing focused.”
For McCall, her team’s success is an addition to an already impressive resume. She has built the Canfield program from the ground up. Her 2006 Cardinals team also went to state.
“They were born when I started coaching,” she said of the 2013 team.
In 1999, she guided her daughter, Ashley, to the state tournament and saw Felicia Ciotola make the trip in 2003.
Canfield is one of the smallest Division I schools in the state, creating an uphill battle for the Cardinals’ consistently strong program.
“To compete against schools that have 800 to 1,000 girls to draw from, and we have 348 girls, so in my book it’s real accomplishment to be able to advance to the state level,” McCall said.
Along the way, she has garnered her share of accolades. In 2012, she was named the National Federation of High School Coaches Sectional Coach of the Year. She also went into the Ohio High School Golf Coaches’ Hall of Fame.
Her current team is confident, but mindful of the task ahead of them.
“None of us have ever been there before, “Whiteleather said. “We’re very close and it’s exciting that we’re making the trip together.”
That won’t make the season any less special for their coach.
“2006 was my ‘dream team’ as I called them,” she said. “This team now has nicknamed themselves. ‘Dream team 2.0.’”
McCall insists she’s just proud to see her team compete in Columbus, so any predictions were muted.
Some things are better left unsaid.