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Jackson girls golf entering postseason red-hot thanks to senior leadership

Senior Harper Ready was defined as the player who embodies Jackson girls golf more than any other current Indian by the team’s second-year head coach Jeff Fahrner. Photo by Jay Forness

With the postseason looming, Jackson’s girls golf team is all but poised to finish in the top four of the Class 4 State Tournament again, which would be the third time the program has done so in its short history.

One of the keys for the Indians has been their senior leaders Alana Gilbert, who is verbally committed to play at Division-I Indiana State, as well as Harper Ready and Grace Hightower.

Jackson’s second-year head coach Jeff Fahrner said Ready has received a few offers to play college golf but has yet to commit, while Hightower is exploring her options to do so as well.

“Our seniors are the heart and soul — they’re the most experienced players and our leaders of the team,” Fahrner said. “They never really turn in bad scores, and when they’re even having off days, they’re still turning in those good numbers. That’s what it’s all about when it comes to girls golf.”

As for Gilbert this season, she most recently tied her career-best and school record nine-hole score of 69 in The Angel Classic last month on Sept. 21. The Indians took fifth overall in that tournament, but Gilbert has still helped Jackson win the Lindbergh Invitational and the Terrier Two Woman Challenge.

At Lindbergh, Gilbert recorded Jackson’s top score at Lindbergh with a 71, while she medaled with sophomore Julia Schlitt at the Terrier challenge in Carbondale.

“Alana Gilbert is obviously one of the most skilled players in the whole state,” Coach Fahrner said. “Again, she can still turn in a very, very good number even if she doesn’t have her A-game. She’s just first class.”

Moving to Ready, she also turned in a personal-best score for Jackson in The Angel Classic with a score of 78. Harper also medaled with Gilbert and Schlitt to help bring home the Lindbergh Invitational Championship.

“Nobody embodies our program more than Harper Ready,” Coach Fahrner said. “She is just Jackson golf through and through and has been in this program probably since she was a manager in eighth grade. She’s a highly skilled and collegiate player. The senior leadership we get from her is key — she does a lot of mentoring with the younger players.”

Earlier last month in the Rockwood Summit Invitational where Jackson took second place, Hightower recorded a career-best score of 76 to finish in the top 10. Grace was also a medalist like her fellow seniors and Schlitt at Lindbergh.

“The thing about Grace is that she does not give up out there,” Coach Fahrner said. “She will fight to the bitter end even if she doesn’t have her A-game on. If she hits a bad shot, she thinks she can bury the hole. She’s got a fantastic mentality out there — she’s just a bulldog.”

Another major team accomplishment for Jackson this season was helping Team Missouri bring home The River Challenge Cup for the first time in five years.

In The River Challenge, Indians placed third overall as a team with a score of 312 as Schlitt scored a team and career-best 70 to finish in a three-way tie for second place individually. Gilbert finished four spots behind Julia at 73rd to finish sixth.

“Nobody works harder on their game than Julia — she’s like the energizer bunny when she’s out there,” Coach Fahrner said. “When everybody else is getting tired, she’s getting warmed up.

“She’s a highly-talented player, and she works so hard on her game. She was fantastic last year, and I wasn’t sure how much she would improve, but she’s improved immensely over the last year. It’s really something to see, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her.”

As for the goal for this postseason, Coach Fahrner said it always remains to make it to the state tournament as a team. Outside of Jackson’s top four, junior Layla Pobst and sophomore Madison Thrower have also been important to the Indians this fall.

“Coaching this team has been one of the best things I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Coach Fahrner noted. “I have so much fun with these girls, and they’re not only top-notch golfers, but they’re also top-notch people. My seniors want to see the program be successful just like I do.

“They can be pretty hard on themselves, so I like to keep things light and keep things fun because the season can be a grind. You have to have fun while you’re out there.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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