Kayla Ward, 14, took the Greater Neuse River 4A girls’ golf championship trophy from one of her Garner teammates and gave it a long glare, soaking in every detail of the gold cup.
The freshman had just handed off her individual conference championship trophy to get a look at the team award.
Ward, who said she knew tournament golf was going to be her sports quest from the first time she entered a competitive tournament at age 8, finished off a run of eight medalist honors in conference matches this season Tuesday at River Ridge Golf Club. She dropped home a bending 8-foot putt on the ninth green to edge Clayton’s Haley Talton by a shot, 39-40.
“The most pressure shot or putt I had all day was on the ninth green,” Ward said. “I knew I had to make an 8-footer with a lot of break to hold off Haley, and I was able to make it.”
Ward’s calm manner even surprised her coach.
“I remember one match earlier this season where she hit a pretty bad shot and I told her to forget and just keep playing,” Garner coach Connie Barnes said. “And she told me, ‘I’ll be all right, coach. It’s a par 5.’ Her composure is amazing for a high school golfer, even more amazing for a freshman.”
After opening with a double-bogey Tuesday, Ward came back with an eagle 3 on the par-5 fourth hole, dropping in a 5-footer after hitting a 5-wood stiff from 200 yards out.
The Trojans’ team championship – their fifth straight under Barnes – was all about consistency as well. Garner won all eight conference matches, topping Clayton 132-138 on the final day of the season, and half of the all-conference selections (determined by stroke average) wore Trojans blue.
Garner seniors Alexis Eaddy (48 Tuesday) and Emily O’Neal (49), along with sophomore Tyler Whitley (45), made sure the Trojans likely were going to turn in at least three scores in the 40s every match.
“All of the girls really worked hard on their game after last season, and it carried over to the beginning of this season,” Barnes said. “We’ve been a really consistent team throughout.”
Talton, who was the Two Rivers 3A champion last year at Smithfield-Selma, led Clayton’s 138 total. Katherine Dull and Sophia Woznichak added 49s for the Comets.
West Johnston was third in the match and on the season. Megan Britt led the Wildcats with a 52 at River Ridge.
Knightdale took fourth (172), led by Ivey Brooks’ 49. Her teammates Erin Giunco and Morgan Cox shot 61 and 62, respectively. Rolesville (182) and Southeast Raleigh (183) completed the team standings. East Wake did not compete in the match.
The next stop for Ward and the rest of the Greater Neuse River 4A golfers will be the East Regional championships at Chapel Hill Country Club on Oct. 20, when qualifiers for the state championships (Oct. 27-28 at Pinehurst No. 1) will be determined.