Forgive Russell sophomore Baylee Salyers for feeling a bit overwhelmed — with joy.
Tickled by earning Player of the Year honors this summer in the Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association’s Girls Grade 10-12 division, Salyers is also the area high school Player of the Year.
She was the top vote-getter by area coaches, edging out Boyd County eighth-grader McKinzie Walters.
“It was definitely a year of improvement,” Salyers said recently after joining other All-Area selections for the team photo at Diamond Links Golf Course. “I did a lot I didn’t think I would be able to do. I surprised myself a lot. It’s been an amazing season.”
Especially at the end. She shot a first-round 80 at Bowling Green Country Club to become the only the area girl to advance to the second round of the State Tournament. The cut was 83.
“I loved the course,” Salyers said. “The greens were so smooth, and fast. Honestly, I didn’t expect to make it to the state, let alone make the cut for the second day.”
As a result, Salyers took a pressure-free approach into her first State Tournament.
“I wanted to be loose, play golf and put into practice what I had been practicing all year,” she said. “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.”
Salyers finished with a two-day total of 172 to tie for 46th.
“The second day, nerves got to me, but I can’t complain,” she said. “I had a great experience. I really hope to make it back next year.”
Salyers put in the practice time and raised her level of play this season to take over the No. 1 role for Russell. She was one of four individual state qualifiers from Region 11, winning a playoff for the final spot.
Walters captured the regional title with an 89 at Old Silo Golf Club in Mount Sterling. The middle-schooler was 27th on the All-State points list this season with 27, including invitational victories at Sandy Creek and Hidden Cove during the high school season. She also posted a high finish in Powell County’s large tournament.
Salyers said she owes much to her “support team” consisting of her parents, grandparents, Russell coach Angie Boyd and Lexington-based swing coach Larry Ward.
“I don’t know what I would do without the whole team,” Salyers said. “I feel blessed. I wouldn’t trade them for any in the world.”
Like Salyers, 2013 All-Area Coach of the Year Bill Brock of Rowan County is a firm believer that improvement only comes with commitment.
Rowan County played in nine 18-hole tournaments during the regular season.
“We were out competing every weekend,” Brock said. “You don’t get better without doing that. You have to challenge them.”
The Lady Vikings outdueled Greenup County by one shot for the regional championship — their first in 23 years.
“We kind of established that as our goal,” said Brock, whose lineup included three seniors and two sophomores. “Our expectation was to go to state. Winning the region, I’m tickled to death to accomplish that.”
Rowan County’s third-year coach received his first All-Area Coach of the Year honor.
“I appreciate that the other coaches realize what we are doing,” he said. “There must be a little respect there.”
Taylor Kendrick, part of the Lady Vikings’ sophomore trio, won a playoff to finish second individually in the regional tournament.
Rowan County led the All-Area three team with three selections. Kendrick was joined by senior teammates Allison Fletcher and Emma Marriner.
Teams with two players chosen included: Boyd County (Walters and Tori Sager); Russell (Salyers and Jessica Ison); Greenup County (Madison Crump and Megan Mulkey); and Johnson Central (Zoee Crum and Rachelle Fairchild). Crum, a seventh-grader, was the Region 10 champion and ranked 32nd on the state points list.
Midway College signee Amber Greene of Fairview put together another solid season despite battling Crohn’s Disease. West Carter’s Kendra Adkins and Paintsville’s Katherine Dale were also selected.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.