MATTHEWS – This has been a dream season for Carmel Christian junior golfer Kelley Topiwala in more ways than one.
First, she’s set all sorts of personal bests this season, including getting a win on a recent junior tour event. She’s earned all-state honors as one of the top private school golfers, but this year has been special mostly because she has a team at all.
See, Topiwala has been playing at Carmel Christian since she was in the fifth grade, but mostly on the boys team. When she did play with the girls it was usually girls from Charlotte Latin, with whom Topiwala would train as a one-golfer show. No matter where it’s been, she’s always been playing well.
“She started with our boys team in the fifth grade and has been our leading golfer since even with boys on the team,” said Bill Smith. “She’s not real big and may not be as long as some of the other girls off the tee, but she hits the ball straight down the middle and her short game is tremendous.”
Last season, the Cougars added another golfer, but this fall, with juniors Analise Dale and Sarah Griffin and eighth-grader Bethany Welch, the girls fielded a team for the first time. And they turned out to be pretty good right away.
“The first match I knew we could be really good,” Topiwala said. “We all shot pretty well, but if we had a bad day during the season, we did a really good job of picking everybody up. We were all really good friends, so it’s been very fun.”
The Cougars have been very successful as well, hanging with Division I schools Cannon and Charlotte Latin and mostly defeating Providence Day and Country Day.
“I’m a big stats guy, and once the first gyration of those came out, we were ranked No. 2 in the state and so I thought to myself, ‘Man, we are right there and we have a real shot at this,’” Smith said. “We had a team meeting right after that and I told them that we have a good team right here and right now, so let’s set that as a goal. And they did it.”
Entering the NCISAA Division I tournament on Oct. 23 at the Country Club of Whispering Pines, the Cougars were sure of themselves and confident, but still second in the state behind Wayne Country Day.
“Coach Smith and I gave the team a pep talk on what we needed to do,” Topiwala said. “We were focused and came out ready to play on that first day.”
The Cougars had to wait until most of the Division I golfers had teed off on the opening day, but came out well once they did hit the course.
Topiwala led the way with a 77, but Welch and Dale carded rounds of 89. Although only the top three golfers score team points, Gilbert shot 110.
The Cougars were up 11 strokes over the field as they set for the final round in the morning.
“That put us into a different strategy going into the second day,” Smith said. “I told the others to play match play against who they were playing, and that changed their games some. Now, where they would maybe go for an approach shot, they could lay up if they saw the person they were playing with was in trouble. That helped them big time, and we just shot better scores on Day 2 after knowing the course better having already played it once.”
Topiwala went low again with a 73, but Welch (86) and Dale (87) carded great scores for the Cougars. Gilbert shot a 116 but, Topiwala said, got her first birdie on the final round.
The Cougars had doubled their lead to 22 strokes, earning the school’s first-ever girls state championship in any sport.
Topiwala finished fourth overall with a two-day score of 150, Welch was eighth (175) and Dale finished ninth (176). All three earned all-state honors.
Smith said a lot of the credit falls on Topiwala, who is the team’s leader and best player.
“She’s been a great developer of her game and an inspirer to me,” said Smith, a long-time coach who also is a reverend and the dean of students at Northside. “But she’s really an inspiration to the girls because she’s such an encourager. She has a great smile all the time, keeps them upbeat and she shoots these low scores that let them know that they, too, are capable of great things.”
Topiwala said it was a dream season, one the Cougars hope to duplicate next year.