The Solon girls golf program graduated its No. 1 linkster for the second straight year, but the Lady Comets remain the team to beat in the Greater Cleveland Conference with four straight league banners.
With four-year varsity starter Catherine Wang taking over the top position in the lineup and freshman Kaitlin Kormuth playing like a veteran in the second position, the Solon girls captured the GCC preseason tournament title last Thursday at Shawnee Hills’ par-71 golf course in Walton Hills.
Solon carded 355 strokes from its low four shooters, defeating runner-up Strongsville, 371 strokes, third-place Medina, 386 strokes, and the rest of the six-team field. Euclid and Elyria did not participate in the tournament.
“Well, we’ve definitely had success the last four years in the GCC,” Solon head coach Damien Kopkas said. “It’s nothing we certainly take for granted coming into this season. You know, golf is one of those situations where, if you get an incoming freshman shooting good scores or a move-in or something like that, you may see a completely different team than the previous year.
“So, we go into those tournaments trying to prepare as best as we can knowing that it may not be the first tournament of the year for all six of the teams, but it’s probably the most important one at the beginning of the year. So, I think we went in with the appropriate attitude and the appropriate effort level.”
Freshman Kormuth was the tournament medalist with an 81-stroke round, defeating her nearest competition, Strongsville senior Molly DuPerow, by two strokes, while Solon’s Wang shot an 84 to finish third.
Also providing scores for the Lady Comets, senior Sandy Deng carded a 92, while seniors Catherine Shong and Megan LaBelle shot 98s.
“It was a tough day at times out at Shawnee Hills,” Kopkas said. “It can be a tricky course, especially out at the back, but the girls did a really nice job adjusting, and we ended up being successful. Medina and Strongsville both shot pretty good rounds as well. So, I’m sure it’s going to be a dogfight throughout the year.”
Graduating its No. 1 and No. 4 varsity linksters from last year’s campaign that put together a perfect 15-0 dual record, Solon still has the experience of four varsity seniors, but freshman Kormuth provides a spark that will motor the Lady Comets this year.
The high school rookie brings a wealth of experience playing junior tournaments and years of perfecting her craft with her dad at Grantwood Golf Course in Solon, Kopkas said.
“She has been working on her game for a long time,” he said. “It can be an overwhelming experience, no doubt, with her coming in as a freshman with four seniors and brand new to high school golf, but she’s been outstanding the first week or two of the season and never really showing signs of frustration or being overwhelmed or things like that. So, she’s clearly been well-coached and understands the game of golf.”
While most freshmen require a lot of time developing their course management, that hasn’t been the case with Kormuth, Kopkas said.
Meanwhile, Wang, a varsity starter since her freshman season, played on the Lady Comets’ Division I state teams in 2016 and 2017. But this is her first season representing the top position in the lineup.
“I really don’t think that that in itself is going to faze her,” Kopkas said. “She’s played enough high school golf. She’s played enough summer tournaments that I don’t think she’s going to be overwhelmed by any experience or feel like she doesn’t belong there. She certainly does belong there, especially in our conference and really in any of the matches we’re going to play. She’s going to fit right into that first paring.”
While Wang had a tough final few holes at the GCC preseason tourney, she shot an even 36 during the Lady Comets’ nine-hole tri-match against Aurora and North Royalton on Monday at Briarwood Golf Course in Broadview Heights.
The Lady Comets won that tri with 162 strokes, while Aurora carded 199 strokes and North Royalton scored 206 strokes.
“We’re expecting scores just like that from her all year long,” Kopkas said of Wang.
Deng is also a four-year starter who played on both of the Lady Comets’ 2016 and 2017 state teams. She had an outstanding summer, winning a few tournaments, but just switched clubs before the high school season and is still adjusting to them, Kopkas said.
Shong was in the fifth position on Solon’s postseason team last year, while LaBelle is eyeing that fifth position or better for 18-hole tournaments this year. And when the Lady Comets play in tournaments that allow six players, sophomore Maddy Markowitz will get the nod, Kopkas said.
“Those three have shown continuous improvement over the last year or two,” the coach said. “They’re as capable of shooting in the low-90s, upper-80s as maybe not. It just depends if they can put it together for nine or 18 holes. And they’ve done a nice job to start the season, but I think really all six of our girls feel like they’ve left some shots out on the course after every round.
“So, while we’ve been successful, we’ve had some nice finishes, some nice results, none of the girls are satisfied. I think they all understand that we can be better, and, hopefully, we continue to get better throughout the season.”
The Lady Comets also competed at the Magnificat Tournament on Aug. 6 at Sweetbriar Golf Club in Avon Lake, where they were in the lead after 13 holes but were cut short from rain. Wang was tied for second at two strokes over par, while Kormuth was fifth at four over.
Solon also finished third among 15 teams during the Lady Bruin Invitational on Aug. 7 at Pine Hills Golf Club in Hinckley and then sixth out of 12 teams during the Lady Rider Invite on Aug. 10 at Twins Lakes in Kent.
“Part of my idea of scheduling some of these tournaments at the beginning of the year is to play with excellent competition and to play on some challenging courses to get us used to some tough greens and some rolling hills and stuff like that,” Kopkas said. “So, when we play on flatter courses or a little bit less challenging courses, we feel a little more comfortable. I think we accomplished that this week and just grinded out some tough scores.”
While Solon was a Division I state qualifier in 2016 and 2017, the Lady Comets missed out on a state berth last season by way of a fifth-score tiebreaker for the final spot out of their district tournament at the Legends of Massillon.
Wang, Deng and Shong all played in that district tournament, but coach Kopkas said it’s too early to start thinking about what the 2019 postseason has to offer.
“We’ve got a big conference schedule ahead of us,” he said. “We’ve got some tournaments and dual matches that we want to focus on first. But there’s no doubt that any of the girls that were there remember how difficult that was to watch those final scores come in and how emotional it got about missing out on states by one stroke.
“I don’t think I’m going to have to revisit that very much this year. I think that’s something that maybe those three girls will kind of take the reins on it and just be the leaders that I know they’re going to be as we approach that, that they’re not going to want to have that feeling again. So, hopefully, we will just continue to play good golf, try to get better on a daily basis, and, when we get to that point, sometimes it comes down to breaks and luck. But you make your own luck too.”