There will be a new Indiana high school girls golf state champion this year with defending champion Ava Bunker (Columbus North) opting out for her sophomore season. Bunker marked her state tournament debut with a record-setting performance last fall, and there are a number of golfers eager for the opportunity to challenge that mark and claim the 2023 crown.
The two-day event begins Friday at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel.
IHSAA girls golf state finals: 2023 first-round pairings
Here are 15 individuals to watch, followed by a preview of the team chase, which should be wide open again this year.
INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH AT 2023 IHSAA GIRLS GOLF FINALS
Listed in alphabetical order.
Cassidy Ayres, Sr., Homestead
Ayres scored a 67 to beat out her four teammates for medalist honors at sectionals, then placed two strokes behind teammate Scarlett Senk atop the regional leaderboard with an even-par 70. Homestead claimed the team title at both events.
Samantha Brown, Sr., Westfield
The Purdue-bound Brown is a three-time all-state pick and two-time defending Indiana Junior PGA champion. She fired a 67 to capture individual medalist honors at the Guerin Catholic sectional, where just three strokes separated her and teammate Addi Kooi, the fourth-place finisher. Brown was one of four golfers to score a 74 at regionals, but won her playoff to finish runner-up at the event.
Paige Giovenco, Jr., Floyd Central
Floyd Central captured four of the top spots in its sectional and five of the top-8. That group included Giovenco, who finished one stroke back with an even-par 70. She finished in a four-way tie for first about a week later at regionals (73), but captured individual medalist honors via playoff. She finished 15th at state last year.
Michaela Headlee, Sr., Carmel
Headlee has one more chance to improve upon her 2020 runner-up finish before joining Brown at Purdue. She finished two strokes off the lead with a 69 to help Carmel secure the team championship at sectionals, then logged a 76 at regionals, two strokes outside the top-5. Carmel also claimed the team championship at that event, beating Westfield by two strokes.
Ashley Kirkland, Jr., Castle
The state runner-up from a year ago, Kirkland dominated her sectional, winning the event by 12 strokes with a 66. She maintained that dominance at regionals, posting four birdies over a five-hole stretch on the back nine en route to a 1-over 73 finish (five strokes clear of the second-place finisher). Of note: Kirkland shot a round-low 72 in the second round of last year's state meet.
Addison Kooi, Jr., Westfield
Kooi carded a 75 to finish fourth at state and garner all-state honors last season. She's continued that success into 2023 and is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes. Kooi came in fourth at sectionals with a 70 (three strokes off the lead), then was within a stroke of the leader at regionals, carding a two-over 74.
Taylor Larkins, So., FW Carroll
The Chargers had not qualified for state as a team since 1996 prior to last season. They've now done so in both of Larkins' first two seasons. For her part, the defending Masters Tour champion posted a 74 and lost in a playoff to Northridge's Alex Reschly in sectionals, then finished a stroke outside the top five at regionals (72).
Lexi Ray, So., Franklin
The reigning Johnson County Player of the Year, Ray set the school record for scoring average last season (73.5) and is looking to improve upon a sixth-place finish at state. She finished outside the top five at regionals, but claimed medalist honors at sectionals with a 68.
Allison Seitz, Sr., Lawrence Central
A two-time MIC champion and two-time Marion County champion, Seitz is making her second state appearance, looking to improve upon her 51st-place finish from 2021. Steitz won her sectional by seven strokes, then finished runner-up to HSE's Janelle Garcia at regionals with an even-par 72.
Scarlett Senk, Sr., Homestead
Senk placed third among the five Spartans atop the leaderboard at sectionals with an even-par 72, then fired a 2-under 68 to beat out Ayers for individual medalist honors at regionals. She finished sixth at state last season, helping Homestead to a fourth-place finish.
Ava South, So., Batesville
A potential sleeper pick following last year's third-place finish, South was runner-up at the Indiana Junior PGA Championship in June, and qualified for state as an individual this year. She was second among individuals advancing without a team at regionals.
Claire Swathwood, Sr., Carmel
This weekend's state meet will serve as a postseason rubber match between Swathwood and Brown. The Memphis commit finished a stroke behind Brown for individual medalist honors at sectionals, then beat her by one stroke to successfully defend her regional championship. Swathwood placed sixth at state last year for the state champion Greyhounds.
Natalie Symmes, Sr., Brebeuf Jesuit
Symmes lifted the Braves to the Marion County championship earlier this month with a third-place individual finish. She advanced to state as an individual, posting a 72 at sectionals (two strokes outside the top four) and a 74 at regionals (tied for second with the aforementioned logjam). This is Symmes' first state appearance.
Delaney Wade, Sr., Penn
The Wofford commit cruised to a sectional championship, carding a 2-under 70 to finish six strokes clear of teammate Scarlett Biever. She finished outside the top five at regionals, but came in a tie for 25th at state as a junior.
Lynne Zhang, Sr., Culver Academies
Zhang won a seven-hole playoff(!!) against Warsaw's Abbey Peterson to capture individual medalist honors at sectionals with an even-par 70 at Stonehenge GC in Warsaw. She carried that momentum into regionals and advanced to state as an individual with a 1-over 71 (good for fifth overall). She tied for 20th at state last season and holds the scoring record for Culver Academies GC (68).
IHSAA GIRLS GOLF STATE FINALS TEAMS ON THE HUNT
Evansville North won back-to-back championships in 2020-21, now Carmel hopes to do the same by successfully defending its state title at its home course. That'll be easier said than done, of course, with a number of worthy contenders looking to dethrone the Hounds. Here's a look at four of those top teams.
Beyond the aforementioned Headlee and Swathwood, the defending state champs also boast senior Kamryn Williams, junior Sophie Mock and freshman Madelynn Headlee. That group swept the sectional and regional championships ahead of rival Westfield.
Center Grove Trojans
Following back-to-back eighth-place finishes, the Trojans took a major step forward last season, matching Castle for second place with a team score of 643 (+67). They return their top-three finishers from that team: Camille Short, Rowen Pfeifle and Lexi Stuart. Short matched Giovenco for low-round at regionals (lost in a playoff), while Stuart placed fifth at the event. Pfeifle and junior Magnolia Miller placed second and third, respectively, at sectionals, with senior Ellie Adkisson coming in a tie for fifth.
The Spartans broke 300 as a team at both sectionals and regionals, with a clean sweep of the top five at sectionals (total score 291) and three of the top-four finishers at regionals (290). Ayres and Senk figure to be in contention for individual medalist honors, but senior Eliza Saal — tied for third at regionals — junior Bre Noll (fourth at sectionals) and sophomore Domenica Casini (fifth at sectionals) are all capable of going low, as well.
Will this be the year three-time runner-up Westfield finally breaks through for its first team title in program history? It very well could be. The Shamrocks finished second to Carmel at both sectionals and regionals, but have a very deep lineup, with senior Samantha Lemieux and sophomores Samantha Hanavan and Kelsey Haverluck joining Brown and Kooi.
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana girls golf: Individuals, teams to watch at Prairie View