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Prep Girls Golf: Hornets break in a new No. 3

SALISBURY —“The swing with the sting” they like to call it at Salisbury, and Isabella Rusher, swings it and stings it about as well as anyone the dynastic Hornets have ever had.
Dynastic isn’t too strong a word. Salisbury has been the state’s best 2A girls golf team nine seasons in a row. There were a pair of state titles when the Hornets played with the big girls in the 1A/2A/3A division in 2005-06, four straight high finishes from 2007-10 when 3As Union Pines and West Henderson took the state crowns, and then a string of three state titles in the 1A/2A division from 2011-13.
The Hornets have won those five state titles on four different courses — Longleaf, Foxfire West, Whispering Pines and Keith Hills.
Rusher’s career has whipped by as quickly as her swing. Seems like yesterday, she was a wide-eyed freshman. Now she’s a senior with two individual state championships, one state runner-up, and three team state championships on her long list of accomplishments.
The Richmond commitment and defending Rowan County Player of the Year shot 34s in her first two nine-hole matches this season. Those scores came at Warrior, where Salisbury beat perennial private-school state champ Cannon School, and at the tight, tough Asheboro Municipal layout.
“As long as we all work together we have a good chance of winning our fourth straight team championship,” Rusher said.
Rusher had ankle surgery last winter, but it obviously hasn’t affected her much.
“The individual goal for this season is to play under par,” she said.
If any other girl said that you’d laugh, but she’s serious and she’s capable of meeting that goal.
“It’s funny because you see Isabella out there on the course looking like she’s unhappy and like she’s really struggling,” Salisbury coach Dale Snyder said. “And then she shoots 34. That Asheboro course was tough, so 34 there was even better than is sounds.”
Salisbury junior Grace Yatawara had a sensational summer that’s gotten her on a lot of recruiting lists. She won the Carolina Golf Association’s N.C. Junior Championship and qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior Championship in Arizona, She shot 79s in Arizona under pressure and in serious heat.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to out there,” she said. “But it was a great experience.”
Grace’s sister, Lily, came before her at Salisbury, and there’s enough of a family resemblance that opponents in regional and state tournaments do a double-take when they see her coming. Grace gets a kick out of that. People think she’s been smashing tee shots for the Hornets for six or seven years now.
Yatawara shot 39s in her first two tournaments this season. That’s great for just about anyone, but she’s been disappointed.
“My ball-striking has not been great,” she said.
Salisbury graduated Madeline Hoskins, who was their third scorer when she’s wasn’t busy with tennis and was instrumental in the last two state championships.
“We had the best third player in the state,” Snyder said.
Three scores count in girls golf. That means last year’s No. 4 and No. 5 players have to step forward.
Both are juniors. There’s Caroline Parrott, and there’s Shelby Holden, a good all-round athlete who also swims and plays soccer for the Hornets.
They are personality opposites.
“Shelby is a spitfire,” Snyder said. “She gets mad, and sometimes she’ll get mad at the golf course. Caroline is so sweet — nothing bothers her. We have to help Shelby stay calm, and we’ve got to fire Caroline up a little bit. They don’t need to worry about comparing themselves with Isabella and Grace. Isabella and Grace have been playing this game a whole lot longer, but Caroline and Shelby are good golfers. They’re coming along. We’re confident that they are going to be up to the task.”
When they played last season, it was mostly exercise and sunshine for Holden and Parrott. But at the same time they were being groomed for those future days when their scorers were going to matter.
The future is now. Parrott’s 49 counted at Warrior and her 50 counted at Asheboro, and her scores helped the Hornets win those matches. Holden shot 52 both days.
“There’s a lot more pressure now, but no one on the team ever gets upset with anyone,” Parrott said. “Shelby and I have worked hard at our games, and all we can do is go out and do the best that we can. Winning against Cannon, that was a confidence boost.”
Holden knows there will be days when her score counts. And when 2015 arrives and Rusher is off to college — Holden and Parrott’s scores will both count alongside Yatawara’s.
“There’s only the four of us, and no one coming behind us yet,” Holden said. “Caroline and I are kind of neck-and-neck. When one of us has a bad day, the other one has to pick her up.”
The first 18-hole test arrives for the Hornets on Wednesday with the Rowan County Tournament at Corbin Hills at 1 p.m. Salisbury has won every girls county tournament and the Hornets are good at Corbin Hills.
“Corbin plays short, a lot shorter than most of the courses I play,” Yatawara said. “But it’s tight. Shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier.”
While there’s more of fatigue factor with 18 holes, the Hornets all like the format better than nine holes.
“If you make a triple-bogey, you’ve still got time to recover,” Yatawara said.
Two years ago, Salisbury swamped the county field by 69 strokes. Rusher shot 73, Yatawara 75 and Hoskins 76. Last season, the Hornets won by 68 shots, with Rusher, Yatawara and Hoskins going 75-76-77.
It has to be more competitive this time. East Rowan and Carson have had second-place finishes in early SPC tournaments. Seven of last season’s eight all-county players, including Rusher, Yatawara and Parrott, are still around. The only one who graduated was Salisbury’s Hoskins.
“We graduated a really talented golfer, but I think it’ll be tighter this year not because we’re worse but because the rest of the county is getting better,” Snyder said. “I’m thrilled to see good golfers all around the county. It’s great for our sport, and I believe our run of state championships has helped be a catalyst for the growth.”
Snyder checks the scores. East Rowan’s Kathryn Marcum and South Rowan’s Alexandria Bare have shot 37s in the early going. Carson’s Adison Collins and Micah Furr have shot low 40s. West’s Rowan’s Boley girls, Kelly and Kristen, have shot mid-40s.
“There have been some very low scores and it may be a lot closer than it’s been as far as the individual medalist,” Snyder said. “Every school has a good golfer now, but we’re still the favorite. We’re still the deepest team.”
They’ve always been deep. That’s what’s made them special, and if Parrott and Holden can do what Snyder expects them to do, they could be the best in 2A for a 10th straight season.
“I’m really busy as AD, but these girls just keep working and practicing even if I’m not there,” Snyder said. “It’s a privilege just to be part of this. These girls do everything right.”

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