Seven years ago was when the Jackson girls golf program had its inaugural season and opened the door for players like senior Alana Gilbert to not only succeed on the course as an Indian, but beyond as well.
While the two-time state qualifier is primed for what should be a season to remember, Gilbert is also going to continue her golf career at Indiana State. Alana is following in the footsteps of former Jackson golfers Kaydi Rhodes (Tennessee Tech) and Ella Overstreet (Southern Illinois), who graduated in 2022, by becoming a Division-I golfer herself.
“I’m excited because Indiana State is D-I, and I’m also glad I’m in the same conference (Missouri Valley Conference) as Ella,” Gilbert said. “It’ll be fun to still be able to play her and see her throughout college.
“I’m really excited about the school because it’s in a perfect town and is only four hours away — Indiana State is the perfect size. When I met the coaches, I knew, ‘This is where I’m going.’”
Gilbert decided to start playing golf five years ago prior to entering high school, which was the same year Jackson’s girl golf team took home its first-ever state plaque after taking third place in Class 2.
Golf had long been in her family already as her father and brother, who also golfed at Jackson, were the ones who influenced Alana to start playing. Gilbert admitted at first that she only enjoyed being a golfer because of them, but she later developed a love for the game her sophomore year.
“That was when I started practicing just for myself, and I have high standards for myself to continue going,” Alana said. “Once I figured out what opportunities I had to play this sport in college, that really influenced me to keep practicing a lot.
“You have to have the right work ethic for sure [to be good at golf]. I’m on the course every day because it’s not just a sport you can come out and be good at. It’s also helped having a swing coach — Jim Davey has helped me out a lot since I started five years ago.”
Last fall, Alana and the Indians qualified for the Class 4 State Tournament as a team and took sixth overall (14 points from finishing in the top four to earn a state plaque). Gilbert finished in 18th place with a score of 168 through 18 holes, while three other Jackson players, who are returning for this season as well, placed in the top 55.
Those other Indians were sophomore Julia Schlitt (39th place at 184) and seniors Harper Ready (51st; 190) and Grace Hightower (53rd; 193). Outside of state, Gilbert and Schlitt earned all-district honors (Alana’s second time doing so) by placing second and 10th, respectively.
“Personally, I didn’t feel like I played very well at state compared to how I was playing during the season,” Alana said. “The weather at state was not good — windy and cold — it was hard to play in. We had perfect weather all season, so none of the girls were used to it.”
Even though Gilbert didn’t earn all-state honors and Jackson didn’t repeat as district champions or bring home a state plaque, Alana still cemented her name in the Jackson girls golf record books. In the Lindbergh Invitational, Gilbert recorded the best nine holes of any player in Indians history by scoring a 69.
“Last season was different because I wasn’t used to being one of the top players on the team — I was used to all of the seniors, and I was barely making varsity,” Gilbert said. “It was a big change, and we still had a strong team last year. Julia is going to be insane when she’s my age — I’m excited to see where she goes.”
Heading into her final season this year, Gilbert hopes to not only place in the top 15 to finally garner all-state honors, but she is also confident the Indians can place in the top four at state again for what would be the third time in program history.
While this fall will be the second year of varsity for players like Schlitt, Ready and Hightower, it’s also going to be the second season for Jackson’s head coach Jeff Fahrner.
“My goal is to place in the top 10 at state and beat what I’ve done my sophomore and junior year,” Gilbert said. “Coach Fahrner was new to everything last year — it was a lot for him, and I tried to help him out. He’s had a year under his belt now and knows what to expect.
“He knows what we need to prepare for at state better this year. I’m also excited to see how the younger girls do this year because they’ve all been putting in so much work, and people are really going to see that work pay off this year.”
Prior to last season as a sophomore, Gilbert helped the Indians bring home their second state third-place plaque in three seasons. Alana did so alongside both Rhodes and Overstreet as the three placed in the top 20 individually (Rhodes fifth place at 152, Overstreet 15th at 161 and Gilbert 17th with a 162).
The trio also led Jackson to win a third-straight district championship with Rhodes and Overstreet tying for second place, while Gilbert took fifth overall.
“It helped how well our team bonded together that year because I know a lot of teams where the girls aren’t close, and that makes it more intimidating if you just don’t know the person very well,” Alana explained. “I remember my sophomore year, we were basically a family, and the golf team still is to this day.
“I’m just glad for the type of relationships the girls have with each other. That really helps the younger ones not be afraid of the upperclassmen but to look up to them as older sisters.”
Dating back to when Gilbert was a freshman, she can actually remember being scared to even try out because she thought the other girls were “way better” than her. Both Overstreet and Rhodes had led Jackson golf to its first state plaque their sophomore year with Ella’s older sister and 2020 graduate Taryn Overstreet, who now plays golf at Drury.
“I thought I wasn’t going to make the team, but honestly all of those players motivated me to get where I am now,” Gilbert said. “I’m excited that I’m a senior and hope I can be someone the younger ones look up to for when they are seniors and can be a good leader for the team. I just think having these high standards for this golf program just motivates the younger players.”
One way that Gilbert leads her fellow teammates is by staying positive and also assuring them that she will never judge them for whatever help they may need.
With this only being her fifth year of playing golf, Alana is out on the course most days even it it’s during the winter. Gilbert will layer up, though, to play even if the temperature is 20 degrees outside or if it’s raining.
“I’d say I’m out here [at Kimbeland] almost every single day — it helps that I work here, too, so I can practice while I’m working,” she laughed. “I’d say I’m golfing at least five out of the seven days I’m out here.
“[Knowing that I’m playing in college] has definitely increased my work ethic. When I was talking to the coach, he was telling me how they have 6 a.m. workouts and don’t go to class till 9 a.m. Then they’ll have a three-hour practice in the evening on top of that, so I’m doing workouts and playing golf every single day. I feel like I’ve got to be prepared for when I get there because I’m going to be the only freshman.”
One struggle that Alana faced early in her career that she’s proud of overcoming is her ability to come back after hitting a bad shot. This all boils down to having a good mentality on the course, which Gilbert said is vital for golfers.
“If you have a bad hole, you have to forget about it and move on because you can’t do anything about it at that point,” she explained. “I’m also proud of my short game. It’s golf, you’re not going to hit every shot perfectly, but your short game can really save you on a lot of things. That’s what I’ve worked on the most and it’s what’s improved my game the most.”
Gilbert’s short game is what she feels like is her biggest strength, and going back to the mental aspect of golf, this is where she doesn’t think about it too much.
“I just try to stay calm because if I’m not in a good mood, I’m not going to play well,” Alana said. “Thoughts are constantly going through my head like, ‘Oh, don’t hit it here. Don’t hit it here.’ You can’t think about the negative things out there. You have to think about where you want to hit it and pick a target.”