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ST. MARY'S ACADEMY ROARS FROM BEHIND FOR 6A GIRLS GOLF TITLE



COURTESY: ST. MARY'S ACADEMY - Members of St. Mary's Academy's Class 6A champion girls golf team enjoy the school's latest title Tuesday at Trysting Tree in Corvallis. From left are Kailin Mink, sophomore; McKenzie Vanko, senior; Alison Brennan, senior; Elizabeth Wiley, senior; and McKenna Vanko, sophomore.Cue Jim Nance.

As the golden-toned golf broadcaster might say, it was a come-from-behind performance for the ages by the St. Mary's Academy Blues.

The Blues quietly and efficiently moved up from sixth to first place Tuesday at Corvallis' Trysting Tree Golf Club, stunning the field with a one-shot victory over rival West Linn for their eighth state championship since 1995.

"A total surprise," Blues coach Dan Friedhoff said.

St. Mary's fired a state tournament school-record 314 -- the team's season low for 18 holes -- in the second and final round to overtake not only first-day leader Sunset but also West Linn, Sheldon, Lincoln and Jesuit.

The Blues completed their second round while those other teams were still on the course, then sat by the clubhouse and could hardly believe it as their opponents putted out and the scores were totaled and each challenger came up short.

"They posted the numbers and we said, 'This can't be,'" Friedhoff said.

But they were, and it was.

It was beyond anything the Blues expected.

This was a good team during the regular season, but also a team that had lost all five of its Three Rivers League matches to West Linn and then finished behind the Lions at the TRL district tournament.

"I'm sure West Linn is wondering how they didn't win (state)," Friedhoff said.

St. Mary's barely even made it to the 6A tourney. In a regional qualifier, the Blues nosed out Central Catholic by one stroke for second place and the final state spot. The regional winner was Lake Oswego, which placed eighth at state on Tuesday, 37 shots behind St. Mary's.

The Blues didn't seem like serious championship contenders after they stood in the middle of the 12-team state tournament pack through Monday's 18 holes.

"We didn't play that poorly (shooting 335), but the competition was fierce," Friedhoff said.

The team score left the Blues players in Tuesday groupings with players from Lincoln and Jesuit.

"We said to ourselves, 'If we can beat both of them, we can get the fourth-place trophy,'" Friedhoff said.

At the end of the Blues' second round, "it looked like a horse race for first place," Friedhoff said, "but I still didn't think we were part of the horse race until the other scores started to post."

The photo finish looked like this:

St. Mary's 649

West Linn 650

Sheldon 651

Sunset 653

Lincoln 660

Jesuit 663

The Blues were "ecstatic and surprised," Friedhoff said of their turnaround for the title.

The team had a bagful of heroes.

Its No. 1 player, senior Alison Brennan, capped her steady, productive career with a 1-over-par 73. She clipped seven shots off her first-round 80 and claimed 11th place with a 153 total.

The Vanko sisters — senior McKenzie and sophomore McKenna — both came in at 160, both lowering their scores on the second day. McKenzie went from an opening 81 to a 79, and McKenna dropped from 83 to 77.

And the Blues' other scorer was extremely key. Senior Elizabeth Wiley, who shot 94 on Monday, fired an 85, five shots under her previous career best.

It was only the second time in two years on the varsity that the Blues counted Wiley's score (as one of the team's top four finishers).

"She plays with a lot of emotion and tries really hard," Friedhoff said. "I guess you could say she had some luck out there, but she also played a very good round."

Not that the Blues did anything spectacular in their fantastic finish.

"There were just a lot of up-and-downs, a lot of chip-and-putts," Friedhoff said.

Brennan is a valedictorian who is headed to Georgetown for pre-med studies, and possibly an attempt to walk on with the women's golf program.

She tied for 16th at state as a freshman, tied for eighth as a sophomore and placed sixth as a junior.

"She's just been really solid for us," Friedhoff said.

McKenzie Vanko is going to USC to study biomedical engineering.

"This is one of the smartest teams I've ever had," said Friedhoff, who has been coaching St. Mary's girls golf for 22 years.

Overall, the 2015 Blues "have been a great team, very coachable. They enjoyed practicing," Friedhoff said.

His approach?

"You take a good group and just try to not screw it up," he said.

The Blues have won state championships in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2015. They were second last year, 30 shots behind -- who else? -- West Linn.

In 2013, the Blues took third -- and West Linn was second, 44 shots ahead of them.

In 2012, Brennan's freshman year, SMA finished seventh. West Linn was fifth, five shots ahead of the Blues.

It's 2015 that these Blues will remember the most, no doubt, and for a long, long time.

"It's the first time we've ever scored under 320 at state," Friedhoff said.

The Blues celebrated Tuesday with a victory party at Caro Amico Italian Cafe on Southwest Barbur Boulevard.

The end-of-the-season barbecue is set for Thursday. If there are any leftovers, don't worry, because this a team now known to feast on Day 2.

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