But as she prepared to finish the 18th hole Saturday at Bowling Green Country Club, Nowlin wasn’t as concerned about the possibility of earning medalist honors as one might think.
“I said, ‘It’d be really nice if I won individually, but that’s not what I”m here for — I’m here for the team,’” recalled Nowlin, who settled for second place with a two-day 139, one shot back of Paducah Tilghman senior Teri Doss (6-under 138).
Nowlin, who fell as many as four shots behind Doss on Saturday, pulled even at 6-under with three holes to play before making bogey on the 16th hole and par on 17.
“He (Neal) told me that I needed to birdie to win individually, but he also told me we were up seven shots,” said Nowlin, who narrowly missed becoming the first player to win the individual and team titles since Assumption’s Leah Wigger in 2002. “I knew if I just made par, we could win.”
Second-ranked Madison Central entered the day tied for the team lead with No. 3 Paul Dunbar, but top-ranked Elizabethtown — which had won seven of 10 tournaments and featured two Division-I commits in Lauren Hartlage (Louisville) and Rebecca Black (North Carolina-Asheville) — was just two shots back. Plus, four-time defending champion Sacred Heart was still in contention at five shots out.
At the turn, Madison Central built a four-shot lead on Dunbar and led Elizabethtown by seven strokes. Elizabethtown trailed by nine strokes through 12 and 15, but rallied to finish three shots behind Madison Central as the runner-up, 629-632.
“This is hard to describe, because I’m going to say two years ago, nobody knew who we were as a program,” said Neal, whose program was third in its region two years ago and sent two individuals to state last season. “Probably after yesterday, most people still said, ‘They’re not going to win, E’town’s going to win, E’town’s won everything all year. E’town was the best team in the state this year.’”
Madison Central and Elizabethtown faced off several times in the regular season, with the Lady Panthers coming out ahead in all but one of those meetings.
“I think in this moment, the girls didn’t let the magnitude of what was here get past them,” Neal said. “We were good enough, but we just couldn’t put the rounds together for four people. This is an individual sport played individually, but it’s put together as a team in this format, so we just had to get that day where all four of them put days together and they did it yesterday and today.”
Dunbar (636), paced by senior Rachel Fine (152, tied for 11th place), slipped to third. Notre Dame (655), led by senior Erin Durstock (50, tied for ninth place) was fourth and South Warren (660), paced by senior Casey Van Meter (154, 14th place) was fifth in its state tournament debut.
Fourth-ranked Sacred Heart (662), led by sophomore Ryan Bender (158, tied for 21st place), was sixth.
“We still have a really young team and with then inexperience, it’s really hard to come down here under this pressure and these circumstances and play your best,” said Sacred Heart coach Leslie Bender. “I knew for us to win, we had to all play our best. And I knew it was possible. We had some really good stretches of holes where everybody really came on and was making putts, but we just couldn’t sustain it for 36 holes. I think next year we’ll come back much stronger than we were last year.”
Shelby County (703), led by junior Lilly Young (160, tied for 27th), tied Owensboro Catholic for ninth.
Doss, who entered Saturday tied with Barbourville junior Kristen Engle for the lead at 3-under-69, was several groups in front of Nowlin and was preparing for a possible playoff.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but I was just trying to stay calm,” said Doss, a Mississippi State commit. “But I had basically already mentally prepared myself to have to go back out and play, and Tristyn’s a great player and I fully expected her to make a run at it at the end.”
Doss tied for eighth last year with a 4-over 148 and tied for 19th as a sophomore in 2013 with an 11-over 155. She became her school’s first individual state champion in the sport.
“This means a lot and I’ve worked really hard for this,” Doss said. “And I finally can see it pay off.”
Engle (Tennessee commit) and Franklin-Simpson senior Mary Joiner (Western Kentucky commit) tied for third at 145, while Murray junior Sarah McDowell (147) rounded out the top-five in fifth.
The post-round individual awards were presented to Edmonson County’s Kayla Meredith (Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac Scholarship), South Warren’s Savannah Trussell (Kentucky National Guard Best and Brightest) and Casey County’s Laura McQueen (Riherds.com Above and Beyond).