Mallard Creek High School recently wrapped up its best golf season ever by winning the school's first I-Meck 4A conference title.
After having just one individual state qualifier a year ago, the Mavericks fielded a team that competed in the state tournament for the first time and boasts the conference player of the year in junior Morgan Zemaitis.
Zemaitis was instrumental in starting the Mavericks girls team two years ago and last year was the only Mallard Creek golfer to qualify for the state match.
This year she helped lead the Mavericks to an undefeated conference record and the best finish in school history.
The Mavericks boasted six of the top 13 individual lowest scorers in the conference during the season and have set the bar high for a young program. Zemaitis led the conference with a nine-hole average of 40.8 during the regular season. Josefin Ekesbo, an exchange student from Sweden, finished a close second at 41.0.
Jade Dawkins was third in the conference at 46.20, Sarah Bennett was tied for seventh at 49.0, Taylor Sovall was 10th with an average of 50.0 and Michaela Massey averaged 52.25, good for 13th in the conference.
"We have such great talent and personalities on our team. All six of us really enjoy playing together," Zemaitis said. "Josefin and Jade are extremely talented golfers, and it's so great to have the chance to play with them.
"Last year I went to state by myself," Zemaitis said, "so this year it was special to go as a team."
This year Zemaitis stepped up her performance and finished 14th in the state by shooting a personal-best 78 in the final round after firing an 83 on the first day of the state tournament in Pinehurst.
"My goal all year long was to be successful at regionals in order to get to state," she said. "So when I arrived at the state tournament, I wanted to just have fun and to enjoy my experience at Pinehurst, and it worked to my benefit. Pinehurst is a beautiful place, and I always look forward to golfing there," Zemaitis said.
Her final-round 78 not only was a career best but was highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 14th hole.
"I hit the longest drive off the tee, and it landed dead-center in the fairway, which made it a nice 140-yard shot (to the green). I walked up to hit my second shot and imagined the ball landing right on the green. I swung my 7-iron and watched the ball fly straight at the pin," she said.
"At first I thought it was over, but it landed inches in front of the pin. From where I was standing, it seemed like the ball stopped an inch or two from the hole. As I started walking up, I saw the ball disappear, and spectators let out a roar and I knew it found its way in."
The 14th-place overall finish at states put her third among Charlotte-area golfers behind Ardrey Kell's Allyson Markiewicz, who finished second with a 152, and Butler's Logan Garman, who tied for sixth with a 156.
Only six of the top 20 individual state qualifiers will graduate after this year.
Head coach Shawn McGeorge said he was extremely happy with the improvement the Mavericks have made this year.
He said Ekesbo and Zemaitis stood out individually, but it was a total team effort.
Zemaitis, who hopes to play golf in college, is preparing to lead the Mavericks again next year. She looks forward to expanding her role next season and competing for the individual state title, which eluded her by only 12 strokes this season.
"My freshman year, we launched the girls golf team at Mallard Creek," she said. "My sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to go to state. This year our team was undefeated in the conference, and we fielded a team at state."
Zemaitis said her teammates and coaches have helped her take huge strides this year, and as a result she will enter next season as the reigning conference player of the year.
"This year everything seemed to click for me," she said.
"I worked hard at all parts of my game, and especially my mental strength. I was able to accomplish so much because of the support and advice I received from my personal coach, Blair Smith (of Birkdale Golf Course), (Mallard Creek coach Shawn) McGeorge, my teammates and my family. I'm looking forward to defending my title next year."
In a few short years, Mallard Creek's program has grown from not existing to competing for a state title. It has an ideal leader in Zemaitis, and it will be fun to watch what they can accomplish next year and beyond.