Bison hope to challenge in Class B girls golf

Second place is often deemed unacceptable.

Baylee Fitzgerald doesn’t see it that way.

The Hazen golfer played on teams that placed second in the Class B girls golf state tournament in 2012 and 2013, but neither experience was disappointing.

“Second place is fine if the team that finishes ahead of you is really, really good, like Kindred was those two years. We knew we had to play great to beat them, and we gave it our best shot,” she said. “We thought we did really well last year. In a way, we surprised ourselves, so we felt really good about second place.”

However, Fitzgerald — who recently graduated from Hazen High School — is hoping that the Bison will find their way to the top in this year’s state tournament, which begins today at Carrington.

“We’re hoping to get into the top three again this year, but it would be great if we won,” she said. “We think we have a chance at it.”

Fitzgerald is Hazen’s No. 1 golfer, averaging 87.2 strokes per tournament. That’s about five strokes better than last year’s average. Fitzgerald made it her mission to be a better golfer in 2014.

“I spent a lot more time on the course than I ever did,” she said. “I worked a lot on my chipping, putting and short game, and I tried to work with every club. I wanted my senior year to be my best one, and because we graduated our two best players (Mary Silverthorn and Rachael Hansana) last year, I knew I had to improve my game. To do that, I had to work extra hard.”

Kathy Berglund, the veteran Hazen coach, noticed a more determined Fitzgerald this spring.

“Baylee came in with a focus and a determination that she was going to do everything she needed to do to make this the best season possible,” she said. “She put a lot of time into it and it’s paid off.”

Berglund said Fitzgerald has also excelled in the leadership department.

“Baylee is a feisty player. She’ll fight for every stroke and what a tremendous example that is to the other girls on the team,” Berglund said. “She does lead by example.”

The Bison are averaging around 380 strokes per tournament, according to Berglund, but that figure is a bit misleading.

“We didn’t have our complete team the first few tournaments and we shot in the 400s,” she said. “We also had some rough days

weather-wise. But the good news is the average has been going down. We shot a 354 at our region (5) meet, and that was our best score of the year. We are playing our best golf right now.”

Kayla Lindquist is averaging 96.2 strokes, Nikole Bitterman 99.2, Megan Neameyer 108, and Kaydin Schmitt 109.

Lindquist, Bitterman and Schmitt also played in last year’s state tournament at Bismarck’s Tom O’Leary Course. Fitzgerald finished with a two-day total of 192

“The course was tough, but I felt I could have done better,” she said. “I’ve played in three state tournaments and I’ve never placed in the top 10. I’m hoping to do that this year.”

Fitzgerald said she likes the Carrington course.

“We played in the state tournament there when I was a sophomore, and I remember doing pretty well,” she said. “The course is longer than most, and it’s more open, so it’s less likely that you’ll get into a lot of trouble.”

Berglund said two-time defending state champion Kindred and Fargo Oak Grove are among the teams to watch at Carrington. Kindred is back in the running despite the loss of two-time state medalist Laura Podolak, who graduated.

“I haven’t seen many scores from other parts of the state, but I do know that Kindred scored a 359 in their region meet and Oak Grove wasn’t that far behind,” Berglund said. “To be competitive, I think we have to shot about a 380 on the first day, and the see how we stack up with the rest of the teams. I don’t think there is a team in the state that is as dominant as Kindred was the last two years, but we’ll see.”

The Class B boys golf state tournament also begins today at Fargo’s Rose Creek Golf Course. Kindred is the defending state champion.

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Reach reporter Mike Weber at  701-355-8839 or mike.weber@bismarcktribune.com.