AVON LAKE — As a freshman, Avon Lake’s Niki Schroeder became the school’s first female golfer ever to qualify for the state tournament, finishing in 10th place, with an 82-75—157 that earned her All-Ohio honors.
Having golfed — and golfed well — at The Ohio State University’s Gray Course last season should help Schroeder prepare for this year’s state golf tournament, which begins Friday at 9 a.m.
“She’s worked so hard to improve from last year, which is amazing when you think of what she accomplished as freshman that she’s improved on that,” said Kevin Fitch, who has been Avon Lake’s girls golf coach for the past 10 years. “She’s cut three strokes off of her average and she’s going knowing what to expect down there. I think she can contend among the top spots, individually.
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“She doesn’t get rattled. Her best attribute is the mental aspect of her game. She’s been in big tournaments and played a lot during the summer, going to different states to compete. She’s had such an impact on this team because of her character. You never know if she hit a great shot or flubbed one because she’s so calm.”
Schroeder said last year’s performance at state has helped her maintain an even-keel approach as she prepares for this the return engagement.
“Just knowing that I played well last year and knowing that parts of my game have improved since then helps my confidence,” said Schroeder, who averaged 73 for 18 holes and 36 for nine holes this season. “I know I can play better than I played last year down there. I just want to go out there and play my own game, really. If I play the way that I know that I can, it could turn out well.”
Schroeder punched her ticket to Columbus for the second-straight year with a 77 at the district tournament at the Legends of Massillon last Wednesday, but even that had its dramatic moments.
Schroeder was sitting at 3-over par heading into the final hole, and a par would have easily cemented her place in the top five individuals. However, she wound up with a double-bogey and then had to wait 2 ½ hours for the remaining scores to report before she knew she’d be going to state, tied with Kent Roosevelt’s Kelly Nielsen for fourth place.
“We talked about (being 3-over on 18) being a great place to be, and she ended up putting her second shot in the water,” Fitch said. “She hits that shot 99 times out of 100, and unfortunately, the one time she doesn’t happens in that situation. She wound up knocking it on the green and two putted, and that’s what, in the end, got her into that slot.
“Because of our district being so large, the top five teams and individuals made it out. Ours was the toughest district in the state – you have Magnificat, Massillon Jackson, Medina Highland … I’d put our district up against any other in the state, and I think if you can make it out of there, you can do well at state.”
The state berth cements what has been a breakout season of golf for Schroeder. She helped her team win the Southwestern Conference tournament with the medal-winning score, and she broke her low 18-hole score with a 67 at the Turkey Foot Invitational. Of all of her regular season matches, she was not the medalist only once. Her over-stroke average in SWC play was only 1.08.
“We’ve had girls win the most valuable golfer in this conference with 6s and 7s in that category,” Fitch said. “When that number was revealed at our coaches meeting, everyone’s jaws just dropped.”
“It’s been a really good season,” Schroeder said. “I played well all year, really. I can’t really think of anything bad. It’s been a good year, especially winning the SWCs with my team and being able to share that with them, since most of them are seniors. That was awesome.”
Her team-first attitude is one that Fitch believes makes Schroeder unique.
“I used to play basketball, too, and that’s all about being on a team,” Schroeder said. “Golf switches a little bit from that. You have play for yourself first, but in high school, you are on a team. We went out there and we did what we have to do and we stuck with it.
“We did great. It was a good year, especially with them all being seniors. We did want we wanted to do and I’m happy I could be a part of that and help us achieve what we did.”
Schroeder credits her parents for allowing her to compete in different offseason tournaments all over the country, which enables her to play golf year-round. She also credited her private coach Nick Paez from Red Tail Golf Club in Avon for helping her continually improve.
“Just the challenge of golf is what I love about it,” said Schroeder, who, believe it or not, has only been golfing for five years. “If something doesn’t challenge you, than I believe it’s not right for you. The mental toughness that you have to have to play golf well … People think that all you have to do is hit a ball and it’s easy, but if you’ve play before, you know it’s not easy at all.
“Just the mental challenges that you get out of it, that’s what I enjoy the most about golf.”
Schroeder was also a champion drag racer, winning two race-track championships and two national championships. However, she says that if she races once a year now, she’s lucky.
“My dad did it and my cousins did it, which helped me get into it,” she said. “It was very cool to do.”
The drag racing exploits are just one more facet that makes Schroeder one of the best athletes Fitch has ever coached in any sport.
“The best part of the story is just her,” he said. “She is just as even-keeled as it goes and she’s calm, cool, and doesn’t get rattled. Especially in the sport of golf, that helps her the most. I expect her to really compete for the top spot this year. I wouldn’t put anything past her, and I wouldn’t bet against Niki Schroeder.”
Division I State Golf Tournament
- WHERE: Ohio State University Gray Golf Course
- WHEN: Friday and Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.
- ADMISSION/PARKING: Free
- WHO’S THERE: Avon Lake – Niki Schroeder, so.
- FRIDAY TEE TIME: Back Nine, 9:40 a.m.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.