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North Marion girls golf program swells with depth, talent this spring season

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion junior Alana Walls sets down her ball to prepare to putt on the second green at the 2019 Husky Invitational on April 16. Walls finished with a team-best score of 116 to place eighth at the event.The North Marion girls golf team was without varsity regulars Raymee Boese and Samantha Simon when the team hosted the 2019 Husky Invitational at Langdon Farms Golf Club on April 16.

Years ago, this would have been an impassable obstacle that prevented the team from putting together a full score. But this season it just means an opportunity for the next person to step up and gain varsity experience.

It's a stark, but welcome contrast to the state of the golf program when Head Coach Keith Lee began serving as an assistant 10 years ago.

"The two and a half years I volunteered as coach in 2009, 10 and 11, we never had a full girls team. "The one year we had a full girls team, I had a girl get hurt before districts, so we never had a full score at districts. It's only been the last few years where we've had enough girls to get competitive team scores out of them."

Over the past decade, the North Marion golf program has grown from just a handful of players each year to this year's 2019 team that boasts 21 members — enough to field full varsity and junior varsity teams for both boys and girls programs.

"That was a real surprise for me, because I only had six coming back total from last year," Lee said.

Part of this year's influx of athletes is due to the recruiting of former assistant coach Kaden Christenson, who couldn't return to the team this season, but has been stumping in the classroom for more players on behalf of Lee.

PMG PHOTO:PHIL HAWKINS - Walls successfully chips onto the second green, setting up a double-bogey on her way to a front-nine score of 60. She would go on to shoot a 56 on the back half of the course. 
Lee also credits the growing success of North Marion athletics across the board, which has seen banner accomplishments in recent years in a variety of sports, prompting more students to take up extracurricular activities.

"The athletic program has been really successful with boys and girls basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball," Lee said. "The achievements that the kids make in school, everyone needs to know that. It gives the kids something to look forward to and grasp on to in that maybe they can do that too."

With Christenson gone this season, the assistant coach roles have been filled by Ian Hutchins and Terry McCullough, who have helped spread the mentorship load, allowing more one-on-one coaching time across both boys and girls teams.

"It's been great having them with the team this year," Lee said. "Having two assistants is an amazing help to me in my ability to get admin stuff done while they run practices or help at events like today."

Last week's event at Langdon Farms was the team's lone home event of the season, inviting teams from Woodburn, Gladstone, Country Christian and Molalla high schools to compete.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Walls tees off on the short par three third hole at Langdon Farms at the 2019 Husky Invitational on April 16. Without Boese and Simon, Lee tapped JV members Bayley Brotherton and Laila Brooks to fill out the varsity roster. And though neither was able to finish the full 18 holes, Lee still counts it as valuable experience for his new players that could pay off in future seasons.

Junior Alana Walls finished as the Huskies' top scorer on the day, hitting a team-best 56 on the back nine to finish with a score of 116 for eighth-place individually. She was followed by freshmen teammates Mallory Patzer (131) and Vivan McCullough (122), the latter of which was a 20-shot improvement over her competitive best.

It's the kind of development that Lee is excited to see this season from a team that shot a combined score of 450 at Arrowhead Golf Course in Molalla on April 8. That was the goal Lee had set for the girls coming into the season, which counts as the program's best score since Lee has been keeping track of records over the past decade.

Having reached that bar already, Lee is looking to challenge his team to drop their scores even further before the Regional Tournament in May.

"They suggested 440 or 430, and I go, 'What's wrong with 400?'" he said.

It's a lofty ambition for certain, but one that he thinks the team is more than capable of striving for.

"It's reducing those mistakes to cut those shots, and it can happen like that," Lee said.

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