Bulldogs tee off
today in Columbus
By Greg Gulas
For the second time in three years, the Poland girls golf team is heading back to the state tournament, only this time it will be as a Division I entry.
For one of the state’s proudest girls programs, their appearance marks the sixth time that they will be performing on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s largest links stage.
The team will tee off at 9 a.m. today on Ohio State University’s Gray course.
“We’re the smallest Division I program at this year’s tournament, having missed the Division II cut by two girls,” head coach Joe Colella said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and if we play like we are capable of playing, then I feel we can do well this weekend.”
Colella is in his fifth season as head coach and with two state appearances, knows how to prep his team for a postseason run.
He credits former coach Judy Young for setting the foundation as Young led the Bulldogs to the Division II state title in 2008, when the Bulldogs finished one stroke (679-680) better than Tipp City Tippecanoe. Poland followed that up with three consecutive (2009-11) runner-up finishes.
“We’re just trying to carry on the tradition that Judy started,” Colella said. “It’s a tradition that she cultivated and nurtured and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
The Bulldogs set the tone for another state appearance by going undefeated in match play (14-0). They also won two tournaments, finished third in the Mid-West Golf Classic and captured the inaugural Northeast 8 Conference title.
Three players, seniors Jenna Jacobson (41.5 average) and Marlie McConnell (42.4) and junior Carly Ungaro (44.0) were named to the NE8 first-team while junior Gianna Myers (44.4) and senior Elena Cammack (46.5) made the second team.
Senior Jenna Timko rounds out the squad and will join her teammates at state, but will not participate.
“Jenna [Jacobson] is a four-year starter, has the most golf experience on the team and is very consistent,” Colella said. “Marlie is also a four-year starter and very athletic, while Carly is an excellent swimmer and has the right mentality to play the game.
“Elena has a lot of tools, struggled in the middle of the season but has come around in time for state. Gianna is playing just her second year, hits the ball well and is solid around the greens while Jenna [Timko] has been a big part of our success and always keeps us positive.”
The Bulldogs finished 10th overall in 2016 and made it to district play last year but failed to qualify for state.
That motivated this year’s team.
“Last year we fought the letdown of not being in Division II, so to come back and qualify a division up in class just shows how focused these girls were from the start of the season,” Colella said.
Jacobson was a Vindicator Greatest Golfer finals qualifier this past summer, winning at Mill Creek, which happens to be the Bulldogs’ home course.
“The attitude of this year’s team is different than it was in 2016. We’re a lot closer and more determined,” Jacobson said. “The OSU Gray course can be challenging, so I will need to get my second shots close to the pin.”
McConnell also played the Gray course two years ago and is ready for another opportunity.
“This group pushes one another and we’re close both on and off the course,” McConnell said. “If we expect to do well, then everyone will have to be on their game and putt well.”
Ungaro has shaved four strokes off her game since her freshman campaign.
“I’ve matured as a golfer the past two seasons and am really looking forward to this year’s tournament,” Ungaro said. “The Gray course isn’t very long, but it can be challenging so we will have to be spot on. I feel like it will come down to putting and we must be strong in that area both days.”
Myers said the key is to remain mentally tough.
“It’s an exciting time for all of us, but golf can be a challenge so we will need to stay focused and remain mentally tough,” she said. “We’ll use Thursday’s practice round to gauge the course and that should get us ready for Friday’s opening round.”
Cammack is ready for the Division I challenge.
“We expect a competitive field,” she said. “While we were more relaxed two years ago because we didn’t expect to get to state, our expectation this year was to be here and it’s always special to achieve your goal. Chipping and putting will be the key but like any other course, if we play our game then we should do well.”
Timko has been an inspiration all season and expects to provide that same support this weekend.
“They enjoy my thumbs-up and say it really helps,” Timko said. “This is an amazing group and they’ve made my senior season one to remember.”
Colella said the Bulldogs are ready to go.
“We had two solid days of practice and cannot wait to get started,” Colella said. “A solid practice round on Thursday will get us in the right frame of mind.”