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Gimme five! MSM returns top of state high school golf

MSM tees up for another successful title

Published: November 28, 2023   
Courtesy Mount St. Mary Academy
The winning Mount St. Mary Academy golf team includes Coach Cody Griffin, senior Kennedy Griffin, sophomore Chloe Freville, senior Savannah Straessle, junior Bella Craiglow, sophomore Maria Ezzi, sophomore Bella Gutierrez, freshman Lillie York and Athletic Director Lane Vassar West.

On the final day of the 6A Girls State Golf Tournament, Mount St. Mary Head Coach Cody Griffin caught up to his number one seed, sophomore Chloe Freville, walking off the next to last green. He didn’t know what he was going to say.

After coming up short to archrival Conway on the first day of the tournament, which doubles as the conference championship, the Belles had roared back on Day 2 to create a six-shot swing and build a seemingly comfortable four-stroke lead late in the day. But dropped shots had brought the Wampus Cats to within one shot on the leaderboard as the final foursome headed for the last hole.

Wanting to impart something encouraging to his ace without amping up the pressure, Griffin chose a minimalist approach.

“I said, ‘Believe in yourself. We believe in you. Just go up there and swing for it,’” said the third-year skipper. “She said, ‘OK, Coach,’ and she walked up to the tee like nothing was up, like this was just another hole.”

It was a moment of high drama to cap the championship Sept. 26-27 at the Springdale Country Club. Freville, who’d been the rock of a squad that no one save Conway had come close to all year, stared down the 169-yard downhill par three, took aim at the back right pin placement and launched her tee shot into the crosswind.

“There were a bunch of people up in the building behind the green and when they started cheering I realized that I hit the pin,” she said. “It was about two feet from the hole and I just realized, ‘This is it.’”

Freville’s competitors’ tee shots went awry and when the Our Lady of the Holy Souls parishioner tapped in from two feet it gave the Belles a two-stroke victory and its fifth golf title. It also broke the school’s state championship drought; MSM has won a state golf title in 24 years and in any sport since 2008.

All in all, a fitting drama to end one of the Mount’s best seasons.

“We won our first tournament of the year, which was exciting,” said Kennedy Griffin, a senior. “It gave us some momentum to start. Then it was kind of us against Conway all season, and we’re really close with the girls on Conway’s team, so it was fun.

“Then, when we got to state and Conway beat us in conference by, I think it was three strokes, that was pretty hard to swallow. And that night we all went to dinner and we were all talking and hyping each other up. The next day, Chloe won it for us and it was really exciting.”

Freville placed third in individual scoring, two strokes behind Yinyoe Yang of Conway and three strokes behind champion Charlie Whorton of Springdale Har-Ber. The finish earned her All-State honors and a spot in the State Overall, played Oct. 12 at Little Rock’s Pleasant Valley Country Club, where she placed fifth. 

She’s already moved into off-season competitions and continues to play five days a week to improve her game and develop as a person.

“I think I’ve really grown trying to be out there more and talking to others more,” she said. “I was very shy my freshman year, didn’t talk to anyone, not even on my team really. Kennedy and my other teammates have really brought my personality out this year which has really helped my mental game and just keeping it positive on the golf course.”

Joining Freville on the all state team were freshman Lillie York, who shot a two-day 171 at state, and sophomore Ana Bella Gutierrez, who fired a 172. Maria Ezzi, a sophomore, carded a 174 and Griffin a 232 to round out the Belles’ scoring at the championship. Team members not competing at state include senior Savannah Straessle and junior Bella Craiglow.

With only two golfers graduating this spring, the Belles are primed for a repeat in 2024, which would be only its second back-to-back golf championship. 

Griffin said she leaves the program with many happy memories, none better than the script she gets to ride out with.

“I think the most fun part of this year has been how close we’ve all been,” Griffin said. “We go to team dinners. We made a bunch of posters for state. We all wear fun hair bows in our hair and deck ourselves out in purple. I feel like that’s really part of not only the physical way we can play, but also from the mental standpoint, we have a good team behind us.

“I know that they’re going to keep going. I’m going to be really jealous when they win again next year and I’m not here. I’m just really proud of the whole team.”

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