Freshmen filling void for Eastlake on golf course | Prep sports feature

The Wolves lost a four-time state qualifier to graduation, but have more than made up for it with a pair of freshmen.

For most high school golf teams, losing a four-time state qualifier would be the main ingredient to a down year. At Eastlake, it is an opportunity for a new class to make their mark.

Megan Wotherspoon made the 4A state tournament in each of her four seasons with the Wolves, making the cut her final three trips and earning a career-best 15th place finish in 2011 as a junior.

Last year, she was one of only two Eastlake players who shot their way to MeadowWood in Spokane. But even with her graduation, Eastlake looks poised to take a deep and talented group to this year’s state tournament behind Wotherspoon’s former playing partner in Jamie Midkiff and a pair of state-caliber freshman in Ashley Fitzgibbons and Maddie Nelson.

“It’s been totally different,” Midkiff said of the team dynamic compared to last year. “I know they have the same goals as me and it’s been easy to connect with them.”

Nelson said she and Fitzgibbons have grown up together playing at Sahalee and both have been excited to join a team for the first time after competing individually in junior tournaments and other events as youngsters.

“When we first moved here, I saw all the girls on the high school team,” Nelson said. “Now I’m finally here. It’s exciting.”

That excitement may not have translated to the rest of 4A KingCo, which has been forced to contend with the newcomers on the course, but it certainly has for Eastlake coach Pat Bangasser.

“They enjoy being part of a team,” he said of his freshmen class, which also includes Jessica Rame. “I’ve been aware of them for a few years and waiting for them to be on our team.”

Bangasser added while their exceptional talent has never been a question mark, it has been their ability to adjust to a team-setting in prep competition that has made the difference. Instead of analyzing a putt or plotting their next tee shot alone, they are able to consult with teammates and approach the course and match together.

As the only returning state qualifier, Midkiff has taken on the role of leader.

“Her game is evolving,” Bangasser said. “I think the fact she has talented youngsters on the team has helped her maintain a sharp focus on her game.”

Despite qualifying for the 4A tournament as a sophomore, Midkiff said there is much more on the table and hopes her offseason work pays dividends down the stretch. After playing only on sparingly between her freshman and sophomore years, Midkiff said she was on the course daily this year in preparation for another run at the state’s top golfers, and she didn’t have to wait until the postseason to get her shot.

Newport finished fourth in the team scoring last year at state after unseating Redmond atop the conference, breaking the Mustangs’ 93 match winning streak and run of eight consecutive conference titles. The Knights opened 2013 with a decisive win over three-time defending state champion Bellarmine Prep, but were only able to sneak past Eastlake on a tie-breaker after the two finished tied through nine holes.

Even though the match ended in a loss (Eastlake had one player with a double-par score on a hole, which meant they did not get a chance at a playoff to decide the match), Midkiff and her teammates said going stroke-for-stroke with the conference leaders on their own course at China Creek was encouraging and a sign of things to come.

“It was a big boost, even though it was obviously disappointing we lost,” Nelson said. “If we play well and drop a couple of strokes here and there, we have a chance.”

Only rival Redmond and Issaquah have been able to get within 10 strokes of the Wolves during the conference season, and Eastlake sits at 8-1 as a team with matches against Skyline and Ballard remaining before the KingCo Medalist Tournament on May 6 and 7 at Willow’s Run in Redmond. The state tournament is May 21 and 22 at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver.