To those on the outside looking in, Howard junior Jacqueline Cherry is quiet and shy — the epitome of an unassuming super star.
But when you dig beneath the surface, past the smile and humble demeanor, there's a fighter. The kind of competitor fueled as much by failure as she is by success.
"Some people may not see that side of her, but those close to Jackie realize pretty quickly that she is invested in excellence. Golf, academics, whatever it is she sets her mind to … she holds herself to the highest standard and she's going to put in the work necessary to reach her goals," Howard coach Joshua McGoun said. "There's no halfway with her. Whether it's a simple drill at practice, or the 10th hole in a playoff for the state championship, she's always all in."
It's that internal drive that has helped Cherry work her way to the point now where she is one of the state's elite high school female golfers. After several near misses last year as a sophomore during the postseason, she took the county by storm this fall on the way to capturing county and district championships.
She then closed her year by finishing second at the state tournament, falling short only after a three-hole playoff. It all added up to a body of work that makes Cherry a runaway winner for this year's Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Girls Golfer of the Year award.
"I think I've learned, as awful as it may be at the time, that sometimes losing can be a good thing. In some ways, I think it motivates me more than winning does," Cherry said. "Last year, it was really frustrating to come so close and lose to Josephine [Jung], but that's I think what's made me work so hard this past year. I knew I had to get better."
Already a first-team all-county golfer her first two years of high school, Cherry was indeed better in almost every aspect of her game this year.
She hit the ball farther, hit more greens, played smarter and, most importantly, scored better when it mattered most.
"I definitely saw big improvements and I think it started with playing in a lot of big tournaments in the spring and summer. That experience gave me some confidence and I think that, along with the improvements in all the different parts of my game, allowed me to have a better year," Cherry said.
Cherry finished the season with a scoring average of 25.3 points a match, a mark that was nearly six points better than the next best girl in the county — her teammate Harper Lurie (19.5). And her success fueled Howard to unprecedented success as a team as well.
The Lions ended up winning the program's third straight county championship as a team, finishing undefeated and setting a new single-match program scoring record with 82 points in a win over River Hill. McGoun said that ever since Cherry arrived as a freshman in 2014, the entire program has changed.
"Jackie, all the way back to when she was a freshman, she put us on the map," McGoun said. "People saw what she was doing, then took notice of what Harper and Alex (Abrams) were doing alongside her. And all of a sudden you get kids in school that want to be a part of it too. This year, after struggling to simply field a full team the last few years, we had record numbers at tryouts and actually had to make cuts."
While the regular season was an unquestioned success for Cherry and her teammates, it was the postseason where she really took her game to new heights. At the county championship, she fired an even-par round of 54 points to win by 15 shots.
Then, a couple weeks later at the District V Championship Tournament, she again ran away from the field by shooting a 2-over-par round of 74 to win by 10 shots. This time, her efforts also helped Howard to a team-score of 328 that was good enough to qualify for the state tournament as a team — a first for the program since golf became a varsity sport again in 2005.
"For me, helping the team make it to states meant as much as winning myself. It's something that has never happened before and it was great to be a part of that," she said. "We've all worked so hard, not just me, so to be able to get there together — especially being the last chance for Harper to do it as a senior — I was just really happy about that."
Cherry nearly pulled off the postseason sweep in late October at the University of Maryland Golf Course. She was tied for first after the opening round and then still stood tied for first after the final hole of regulation.
Forcing the championship to a playoff, Cherry went toe-to-toe with Churchill's Lena Capoccia through three playoff holes before ultimately falling a shot short. But, after not even making the second day at states as a freshman, and then losing by 19 shots as a sophomore, the progress was remarkable.
And, as she reflected on the narrow defeat nearly a month later, Cherry said it's just the latest source of motivation that she needs to push her game to the next level.
"I think I have been able to [put it in perspective], especially when I think about how last year I could never have even imagined being tied for the lead at states at any point, let alone in a playoff. So, it's definitely improvement," Cherry said. "But I will say that, being so close … it makes me want to win more than ever next year."
Named to the all-county first team are:
Alex Abrams, Howard, junior
Season highlights: Highlighted by a career-high 21 points in a victory over Long Reach at the Timbers at Troy, Abrams finished the regular season with a scoring average of 17.1 points a match for the county-champion Lions. She finished in fourth place at the county championship tournament with a total of 35 points, then followed that up with a round of 84 to finish alone in second place at the District V tournament. At states, she closed her year with an opening-round 95 that fell short of making the final-round cut.
Harper Lurie, Howard, senior
Season highlights: The lone senior for a Lions' team that went undefeated on its way to a third straight county title, Lurie finished with the county's second-best scoring average at 19.5 points per match. Her season high was 24 points in a tri-match sweep of Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills. At the county championship tournament, she finished in sixth place with a round of 29 points. Then at the District V tournament, she placed fourth with a score of 91 that was good enough to qualify her for states. She closed her season with an opening-round score of 92 at the state championship tournament, narrowly missing the cut.
Faith McIlvain, Marriotts Ridge, freshman
Season highlights: McIlvain burst onto the scene with 20 points in her first match this fall. She ended up finishing with a scoring average of 19 points a match, including a season-high 25 points in a tri-match against Centennial and Atholton. She finished alone in second place at the county championship tournament with a total of 39 points. Then, in what ended up being her final tournament of the fall, she placed in a tie for sixth at the District V tournament with a score of 98.
Lee Lee Sands, Wilde Lake, junior
Season highlights: Despite doing almost all of the scoring herself during the regular season, Sands helped the Wildecats to a winning record thanks to her scoring average of 19.1 points a match. Her season high was a 25-point effort against Mt. Hebron. At the county championship tournament, she shot a round of 31 points to finish in fifth place. She closed her season with a 12th place finish at the District V tournament (107).
Isabel Trojillo, Centennial, junior
Season highlights: The leader of an Eagles team that finished in second place with a 10-1 record, Trojillo finished with a scoring average of 19.4 points a match — third-best in the county. She was also one of the area's most consistent players, never scoring fewer than 19 points in any match. She placed third at the county championship tournament with a score of 37 points, then followed that up with another third-place finish at the District V tournament (90). At the state championship tournament, she was one of only two county golfers to make the cut and ended up finishing 12th with a two-day total of 173.