Girls have plenty of swing, swagger for Belfast links squadFive female student-athletes make up majority of Lion roster
Northport — For all intents and purposes, high school golf has been a male-dominated sport, with a sprinkling, now and then, of females who enjoy getting into the swing of things.
However, this fall at Belfast Area High School, it has been the girls who are in the driver’s seat.
Of the Lions' nine golfers this season, five are girls — all of whom participated in each varsity match throughout the campaign.
Senior Katy King and juniors Madison Hemingway, Alexia Sweet, Kristina Walker and Macy Gale have opened eyes this season for the Lions.
Belfast coach Chip Lagerbom, now in his 22nd year guiding the team, said “the girls have brought a different element to the team from ones I have coached over the years.”
“Occasionally we would have a girl come out but never more than one at a time even though it has always been a coed sport,” the coach said. “Now the core of this team are girls. They have earned their way to the top of the varsity ladder. They are also the team's upperclassmen, since all the boys are either freshmen or sophomores, and the girls are all juniors and [one] senior. So, in essence, it is their team and they are growing into the leadership roles that come with it being their team.”
“Being higher up on the ladder is a lot of pressure especially since most of us haven't been in these positions before,” said Hemingway, who has played golf for the past three years. “Also now that we're up higher on the ladder, coach is expecting more and more from us each day so we really have to try our best to impress ourselves, our opponents and our coach.”
The Lions finished 0-10 in the regular season and were knocked out in the first round of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B North playoffs — but this season has not necessarily been about wins and losses for Belfast.
Lagerbom said the influx of female players this season “has rejuvenated the program in some ways and made a positive impact on me and my coaching.”
“It has always been my goal to be as supportive as possible of young golfers who want to learn the game,” he said. “I do understand that high school golf is about competing and we do strive to be a competitive program, but we also recognize that golf is an enjoyable and potential life-long activity.”
Sweet, who like Hemingway has played golf for three years, said “some teams are watching us a little bit more because they might believe we don’t know what we are doing as well as their players do.”
“This year has definitely been different because we have had to fill the shoes of the guys prior to us and as you can tell, there aren't a lot of girls that play in the top varsity spots,” she said.
“All of the teams we've played have had guys for the top six spots,” said Hemingway. “Most of them didn't expect for our whole team to be girls so I think they were most definitely surprised. They all had the stereotypical, ‘Oh, she's a girl so I'm totally going to beat her’ when we stepped up to the tee box to do introductions. But it was a whole different story on the course.”
On the high school links, the boys play from the white tees, while the girls play from the red tees — further up the fairway.
On the season in match play (including their playoff loss to Medomak Valley), Gale finished 5-4-2, Walker 4-5-2, Hemingway 3-8, King 2-8-1 and Sweet 2-9.
And while their individual records against their male counterparts may not always reflect it, make no mistake about it — these girls can play.
Sweet and Hemingway have participated in the Maine Principals' Association state individual schoolgirl championships as Sweet qualified as a freshman two years ago and Hemingway last year as a sophomore.
“I look for them to hopefully qualify this year too and the really exciting thing is that the other three — King, Walker and Gale — could realistically join them by also qualifying at Natanis Golf Course in October,” said Lagerbom.
Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield athletic director and KVAC golf chairman Jim Leonard said, “What’s going on in Belfast is certainly unique and encouraging.”
“The vast majority of Maine high school golfers are boys,” Leonard said. “Because of that, it's the only MPA team sport that is coed. The girls compete against boys at the team level and use the ladies tees when doing so. We would love to see girls' interest in high school golf grow, and boys as well. It's good for the game, good for our local courses and good for the kids.”
Lagerbom said he is proud of his golfers for being able to match up “against any boy player of any ability [level] in the league and go out and enjoy themselves.”
“It is not easy to play a competitive round of golf and keep your cool and wits about you, whether you are a boy or girl, teenager or a grown adult,” said the veteran coach. “For high schoolers, teeing off in front of your fellow competitors, especially if they are the opposite gender, can sometimes be a trial. But these girls consistently rise to the challenge. I could not be more proud of them.”
Sweet and Hemingway agreed one of the determining factors for joining the golf team was to improve in a game they will be able to enjoy the rest of their lives.
"I really wanted to join golf because of my grandfather and I knew it was something we'd be able to do together for a long time and that's pretty special,” said Sweet. “I enjoy playing the sport because it's independent and it's a game about honor.”
Hemingway said “golf is a lifelong sport that you can take anywhere.”
“Whether its a business trip or to just play for fun, golf is a great sport,” she said. “Yes, it can get frustrating, but it's so relaxing at the same time. I think that the other girls joined the team for the same reason.”
That, and perhaps, to prove doubters wrong along the way.
“We wanted everyone to know that we are capable of doing whatever the boys can do,” said Hemingway.
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.
Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.
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