She stays course with Big Mac boys

GOLF


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As Lauren Waller enters her final season as a high school golfer, plenty of memorable moments have dotted her career.

She hopes to add some more pleasant memories before she concludes her high school career with another performance at the state high school girls golf championship at Heritage Hills Resort in York.

For now, though, there's the matter of competing for the Canon-McMillan High School boys golf team, a circumstance that developed because the school does not field a girls golf team.

Waller regularly beats boys in matches. On Wednesday, she was the medalist in a match against Chartiers Valley when she shot 33 at Lindenwood Gold in Peters Township. Two weeks ago, she tied for fourth at the Tri-County Championship with a 76 at Village Green in Hickory, Washington County.

Waller, a 17-year-old North Strabane Township resident, began her high school career as a member of the Shady Side Academy girls golf team which won both WPIAL and PIAA Division 1 championships in 2011, her only season with the Indians.

When she transferred to Canon-McMillan, her new teammates knew all about her.

"They thought I was going to be on the team when I was a freshman," she recalled. "But, when I came in as a 10th-grader, they accepted me quickly."

Still, there were some moments where that acceptance was delayed.

Big Macs coach Justin White recalls a moment during team tryouts when Waller was a sophomore where she was hitting from the red tees, which is acceptable under PIAA regulations when a girl is playing on a boys team

After three days of the five-day tryout process, Waller overheard one of her teammates say in a soft voice that "if I could hit from the red tees, I'd shoot a 36, too."

The player didn't know Waller heard the comment. Shortly after that, she went to White and said, "I'll be playing from the white tees [during tryouts] for the next two days."

White said the extra distance made no difference to Waller as she played as well -- if not better -- than her male teammates.

"She showed them that she could play, and that solidified her membership on the team with that close-knit group of boys," White said.

As has been the case the past two years, Waller will play in section matches with her male teammates. Once the postseason begins and individual honors are up for grabs, she'll compete against girls, beginning with the sectional championships next month.

A year ago, Waller won the individual section title with a score of 76, 13 strokes ahead of Peters Township freshman standout Mia Kness. Her strong play continued with winning efforts at both the WPIAL Class AAA and PIAA Class AAA Western Regional championships with rounds of 75 and 76. At the PIAA Class AAA state championship at Heritage Hills, she finished in a third-place tie with Council Rock senior Erica Herr with two-day totals of 151, 7 strokes over par.

Like Waller, the defending state champion, Isabella Dilisio of Mount Saint Joseph, and runner-up Jackie Rogowicz of Pennsbury are seniors this season.

She fully expects to be back in York in October contending for a state title.

"I'm a lot more confident than I was last season," she said. "I've been practicing a lot and have been working a lot with Bill Kurp, my swing coach, who has worked with me since I started playing golf when I was 10 years old."

Waller said the strongest part of her game comes from within 100 yards of the green.

"My short game has come a long way," she said. "In the last year or so, I thought I could do better, and it has come a long way."

She said approach shots from the fairway remain a work in progress.

Solid off the tee, Waller has been especially accurate off the tee on par-3 holes.

White's favorite memory came on the 18th hole at the WPIAL championship tournament a year ago at Hillcrest Country Club in Lower Burrell, an event Waller won by five strokes.

"The last hole was a par-3, and she couldn't see the green [from the tee]," White recalled. "She hit the ball well, but she had no idea where the ball went. When she saw where the ball landed, it was just a couple of feet from the cup, and her eyes just lit up."

Waller has verbally committed to Penn State.

"The first tournament I ever played was at Penn State, and I just really liked it there," said Waller, who plans to study nursing with an eye toward becoming a nurse anesthetist.


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