11/02/11 — Simmons captutes 3-A state golf championship

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Simmons captutes 3-A state golf championship

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 2, 2011 1:48 PM

FOXFIRE VILLAGE -- Time to hang a new banner in the gym.

And search for a ring sizer.

Tara Simmons became the newest individual state champion in Charles B. Aycock's illustrious athletics history, and she added a new chapter in Wayne County lore, too.

The Golden Falcon junior seized the inaugural 2011 N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A individual women's golf crown with a two-day score of 155 on the challenging par-72 West Course at Foxfire Resort and Golf Club.

Simmons defeated Concord's Sarah Bertram, who shot a second-day 75, by five strokes. Northern Guilford's Taylor Penzer (165), Southwestern Randolph's Rachel Jones (166) and West Henderson's Payton Culler (168) rounded out the top five.

Aycock finished seventh in the 12-team field.

"A 79 ... that's not my best, but I played really consistently," said Simmons of her second-round effort. "I did get nervous out there and I think everyone got nervous over some shots, so that might have caused some mental hiccups. Everyone here deserved to be here.

"And I think everyone was glad to be here for the experience."

The 5,787-yard layout forced the competitors to coax balls over water, and also avoid sand traps which anchored nearly every green. The pin placements were strategic and hard to reach on occasion, which reflected the high scores posted during the two-day, 36-hole event.

The Golden Falcons' Jessie Stewart and Jordyn Howell combined to shave a phenomenal 31 strokes off their opening-round scores. Stewart shot a second-day 100, while Howell entered the clubhouse with a 106.

"Jess and Jordyn just had a bad day yesterday," said third-year Aycock head coach Roger Rhodes. "I think the jitters of playing in their first-ever state tournament might have gotten to them. Today, they had a ball and played good golf, I thought."

And Simmons played "Tara ball."

A two-time regional champion, Simmons carded just four birdies total during her two rounds, but played a steady game that eventually led to her career-long goal -- a state title.

"I knew today I had to play solid, play my game and not worry about anything else," said Simmons. "This course was extremely long and played long, not even considering the conditions. I felt like I hit the ball pretty well (all day)."

Simmons encountered a little trouble on her final hole of the season and collected a double bogey. But once she sank that putt, the reality started to sink in just a little bit.

She still had to wait.

"That hour was very nerve racking," laughed Simmons. "I was walking around and pacing. We were all biting our fingernails waiting for the other scores to come in."

The emotions finally got to Simmons once the final scores were recorded. She noticed Rhodes tearing up and received a hug from misty-eyed Aycock Principal Dr. Earl Moore.

Moore said it was time to get a banner to hang in the gym to recognize Simmons for her achievement. She is the fifth individual state champion in Aycock history and just the third golf state champion -- male or female -- to hail from Wayne County. Eastern Wayne alum Brian Mull won the NCHSAA 4-A men's individual crown in 1989 and Wayne Christian alum Eric Williams claimed the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A crown in 2008.

In awe of the validating moment, Simmons grabbed her cell phone and called her dad, Wallace.

"He's the one who has coached me and gotten me to this point, which I'm very thankful for," said Simmons. "The banner in the gym? That's so crazy to think about right now."

Rhodes summed up the two days at Foxfire as a team effort from players and family.

"They made the old man proud," he laughed. "Three years ago when I took over the program, I told the parents I didn't know anything about golf but if they stuck with me, good things will happen.

"We might not have gotten a team state championship, but they've all definitely gotten a taste of it. Charles B. Aycock golf is on the map. It's been a heckuva ride."