Girls Region Golf

Ashland’s Kate Hanni putts the ball during the girls region golf tournament at Acorns Golf Course in Mount Sterling on Tuesday.

Kate Hanni’s 2020 was about like everyone else’s, if not even more profound in its peaks and valleys.

“I had my highest of highs and lowest of lows, I’d say,” Ashland’s senior golfer said.

Both on the course and off.

Hanni led the state in All-State points — awarded based on performance at high-level events — with three weeks remaining in the season. She played the first 196 holes of her year without a double-bogey, according to her father and coach, Mark Hanni — a stretch all but unheard of for high school golfers.

Against a strong state-level schedule, Hanni had more than asserted herself as a Miss Golf candidate entering the Kentucky Golf Coaches Association All-State Championship, contested amongst the commonwealth’s high-ranking teams and players late in the regular season.  

But once Hanni got going at the University Club of Kentucky in Lexington on Sept. 19, things took a turn. Hanni’s right arm bothered her so badly that her driver was too heavy for her to manipulate.

Hitting 3-wood off the tee, Hanni got through 15 holes at 5-over-par, her father said, before it got to where she couldn’t even pick her tee out of the ground with her right hand on the last three holes, on which she went bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey. She withdrew before the second round.

Hanni went to work to try to get ready for the Region 12 Tournament at Golf at Acorns in Mount Sterling 10 days later.

“I was doing great in physical therapy and I really thought I was a lot better,” Hanni said, “and I just hit it funky on No. 1 and I wasn’t able to keep my hand still the rest of the day.”

What happened after that is as much why Hanni is The Daily Independent All-Area Girls Golf Player of the Year as the dominance she exhibited before it.

With her right hand shaking so badly she couldn’t record her own scores, Hanni gutted out the rest of that round, tying for third in the region tournament. She then managed a 5-over-par 77 in the first round of the state tournament at the Bowling Green Country Club to tie for 14th individually at that point with an arm that her father estimated at about 50%.

“I still think that’s one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen in sports, for somebody to get through what she got through that day,” Mark Hanni said of Kate’s region tournament round.

Not until after that was Kate Hanni diagnosed with a pinched nerve along the artery below her elbow. It has since been surgically repaired in what Mark Hanni said Dr. Jarrod Smith called the worst such case he had seen, with a muscle wrapped around the nerve so tightly the nerve was turning white — perilously close to career-ending.

Instead, Hanni has the go-ahead to begin swinging again in preparation for playing collegiately at Winthrop University.

Stressful as that process may have been, that was hardly the worst of it. Dr. Cary Hanni — Mark’s father and Kate’s grandfather — died on the day of the practice round for the All-State Championship.

It wasn’t unexpected — Cary Hanni had had surgery to remove pancreatic cancer, which went well, according to his son, but he became septic. So Cary had time to plan for how he expected his family to deal with the approaching reality.

“My instructions were, (Kate’s) golf came first,” Mark Hanni said, “and practice rounds, tournaments, no matter what position he was in, we were to do that. I was like, I didn’t disobey him when he was alive, I wasn’t gonna disobey him when he was gone.”

So Kate played. And she worked to make the best of her simultaneous struggles.

“I won three Tier 1 events in a row, and it had the best people in the state at them and I felt really good about it,” Kate Hanni said, “and then I got hurt and it all came crashing down. My grandpa died. (In-person) school gets canceled.

“It really taught me how to get through difficult situations and be mentally tough, I think, because I still feel like I was able to put on a smile and I made sure that my team was always into it and having fun. I was really proud of how everyone showed up at regionals when they knew that I couldn’t do it. I learned a lot about adversity, definitely.”

Ashland carded a cumulative 360 — 22 shots fewer than its tournament average — to win the region tournament by 45 strokes, the widest such margin in nine years.

Carley Cullop produced her lowest round of the year that day — 11 shots under her tournament average to tie Hanni’s 79 — to lead an emotional Ashland.

“My whole team waited for me coming off the green and we all hugged and cried,” Kate Hanni said, “and it was really special.”

Cullop joined the Hannis on the All-Area team, representing an Ashland group that peaked on the right day after a challenging regular season.

“The kids have played against such competition all year long, especially our 3 and 4,” Mark Hanni said. “They were getting drubbed every time they played, but they got better and they learned how to play with better golfers, and in the regional they were (each) the best player in their group.”

Boyd County’s Morgan Kennedy was not only the best player in her group, but in the tournament, that day. The eighth-grader shot a 77 to win the region tournament.

“I had one or two drives that just did not go, but other than that my drives were killer, right down the middle,” she said after that round.

That was Kennedy’s top tournament finish of the season. She supplied an average of 83.5 and was also fifth at Rowan County, in the top 10 at Montgomery County and Grant County’s events, and cracked the top 20 at Villa Madonna and Paul Laurence Dunbar. She also tied for medalist honors in the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament.

Kennedy’s parents are Missy and Steve Kennedy. Steve is the manager at Grayson Lake State Park and PGA head golf professional at Hidden Cove Golf Course, and Missy fills the same roles at Yatesville Lake State Park and Eagle Ridge Golf Course.

The couple formerly coached golf at Kentucky Christian. Missy also took over as the Lady Lions’ coach this year.

“It’s in the blood, I guess,” Morgan Kennedy said with a grin.

Boyd County senior Adie Caldwell joined Kennedy as a state qualifier and on the All-Area team. Caldwell averaged a 90.1 and finished in the top 10 at Montgomery County and the top 20 at Grant County.

Raceland supplied two All-Area performers — Laney Sexton and Shalyn West. Sexton shot her personal best in three consecutive matches late in the season, carding a 45, 44 and 43, according to her mother and coach, Kim Sexton. And she qualified for the All “A” Classic state tournament individually, which was her fourth consecutive trip to that event. The Lady Rams went as a team three years running before that.

West also qualified for All “A” State and shot several rounds in the 40s, according to Kim Sexton.

West Carter’s Breannon Boggs was voted All-Area after qualifying for her third trip to the state tournament. She was third in the EKC Tournament.

Greenup County freshman Cambria Burke made her first trip to State. She also shared EKC Tournament medalist distinction — her first tournament win.

Paintsville freshman Izzy Christy tied for second in the Region 11 Tournament, won the 15th Region All “A” Classic title and was the top northeastern Kentucky finisher at State, tying for 13th on the strength of an even-par performance over her final 10 holes. She also tied for 27th in the All-State Championship.

Russell’s Tessa Leibee was the Region 12 runner-up, shooting a 78 at Acorns, and made the cut to Day 2 of her fourth state tournament. She was second in the Eagle Trace Invitational and tied for sixth at Montgomery County.

Lauren Nolty of East Carter was fifth in the region tournament and also qualified for the State second round. Nolty placed fifth in the EKC Tournament and seventh in the Eagle Trace Invitational.

Boggs, Burke, Christy, Cullop, Kate Hanni, Kennedy, Leibee and Nolty were all KGCA All-Region performers. Mark Hanni was the association’s Region 12 Coach of the Year.

The team was selected by northeastern Kentucky coaches’ vote. The Player and Coach of the Year were determined by the newspaper’s sports department.

(606) 326-2658 |

zklemme@dailyindependent.com

2020 The Daily Independent All-Area Girls Golf Team

Breannon Boggs (West Carter)

Cambria Burke (Greenup County)

Adie Caldwell (Boyd County)

Izzy Christy (Paintsville)

Carley Cullop (Ashland)

Kate Hanni (Ashland)

Morgan Kennedy (Boyd County)

Tessa Leibee (Russell)

Lauren Nolty (East Carter)

Laney Sexton (Raceland)

Shalyn West (Raceland)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kate Hanni (Ashland)

COACH OF THE YEAR

Mark Hanni (Ashland)

Honorable mention: Rachel Bush (Greenup County), Kinzie Kilgore (West Carter), Kristen Ramey (Boyd County).

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