Benefield: Cardinal Newman captures section golf crown

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Cardinal Newman’s freshman-heavy girls’ golf team is new to all of this, forgive them.

Fresh off of their North Bay League-Redwood Division championship — which they won going away — the Cardinals on Monday brought home another prize: The first North Coast Section title in girls’ golf since the school began enrolling girls in 2012.

That’s great and all, but they had some questions about all this banner stuff.

“They are learning, they are talking about it, ‘What is this banner? What does this mean?’ ” coach T.J. McMahon said.

He’ll gladly explain it to them.

The Cardinals, fielding a junior, a sophomore and three freshmen, went up to the Beau Pre Golf Course in McKinleyville on Monday and came away with the best team score and the title of Division 2 champs. In doing so, they also secured a banner to go along with the one they got for winning league.

They also advanced three golfers to the Div. 1 tournament Monday at Foxtail Golf Club in Rohnert Park.

Junior Abby Leighton, still nursing a sore shoulder, shot a 76 to take second among individual golfers. Freshman Gabby Sinatra also made the cut with her 84, as did fellow freshman Lillie Dayton who shot an 88.

Among North Bay League and Vine Valley Athletic League golfers, Katie Robinson of American Canyon also played her way into Monday’s Div. 1 tournament.

For the leaders to shoot what they did was a feat in itself, McMahon said. The course was tough and, by his judgment, “not in excellent shape.”

“There were lots of trees and hills, very tight fairways,” he said. “There were gopher holes, the bunkers were not very good. But everyone was playing under the same conditions.”

The Cardinals had prepped thinking the Beau Pre setup might look something like the Bennett Valley Golf Course. It did — kinda.

“It was like Healdsburg and Bennett Valley put together on steroids,” McMahon said. “It was a very tough course.”

“All of them … walked away saying, ‘Man, I could have shot better than that,’ ” McMahon said. “They all felt that way.”

Leighton, who has been bugged by a shoulder injury recently, had not practiced normally in almost two weeks. Still, the defending Div. 2 champ put up a solid score that secured her spot in Monday’s tournament.

“I think she was bummed she didn’t win, but she does recognize the fact that she hadn’t been able to practice in 10 days,” he said. “I think she would have liked to have been able to defend her title and repeat.”

But advancing three players to the Div. 1 tournament is something the Cardinals have never done. And for Leighton, that tournament represents some unfinished business. She was tied for 22nd out of 145 Div. 1 golfers last year — not good enough to advance to the NorCal tournament. That was very clearly her goal.

“She would really like to make it to NorCals,” McMahon said. “She belongs in that class to make a run for it and compete.”

Leighton, of course, won the 70th annual California Junior Girls’ State Championship in Carmel this summer. She has the goods to challenge on Monday.

So, too, according to McMahon, does Sinatra.

“Gabby has a good shot at it,” he said.

And Dayton, who has club speed second only to Leighton’s on the squad, could navigate the holes at Foxtail well.

“There is not a lot of trickery to that course. It’s pretty straightforward,” he said.

And the Cardinals have the advantage of having played Rohnert Park’s Foxtail before. The course in McKinleyville was new to them until their practice round on Sunday.

With a more little luck up north, McMahon said his squad could have qualified all five of their players to advance to the Div. 1 tournament, where they would face the likes of Napa and Ukiah’s teams, as well as players from Dougherty Valley, Amador Valley and Carondelet.

But considering the two who didn’t make the cut are a freshman and a sophomore, the Cardinals ought to rest easy about the future of their program. So much so that McMahon is pondering asking for his team to be moved up to Div. 1 next season.

Either way, the future is pretty bright for this group.

“I’m excited about it,” McMahon said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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