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Marriotts Ridge's McIlvain takes center stage as Howard County girls golf Player of Year

Through her first two years of high school, Marriotts Ridge’s Faith McIlvain had always been the hunter.

In a county filled with established golfers, including Howard High’s two-time Howard County Times Player of the Year Jacqueline Cherry, McIlvain was accustomed to having someone to aim for. She had unquestionably established herself as one of the area’s elite golfers, but she had plenty of company.

This fall, however, that all changed.

Having broken through to win the 1A/2A state individual championship at the end of her sophomore season, combined with the graduation of the county’s other top three players in terms of scoring average in 2017, McIlvain was suddenly the one with the target squarely on her back.

“It was definitely much different this year. Having that competition the last couple years, knowing how good those girls were, that was my motivation,” McIlvain said. “So this year, not having that, I had to learn to push myself in different ways. I think it was a really good thing, though. It made me realize that it’s not the players I’m playing against; it’s the course.

“Mentally, that was a huge step for me and I think that’s what helped me become so much better overall.”

As the clear-cut frontrunner, McIlvain was indeed better in almost every facet this fall. She raised her scoring average by more than four strokes, won county and region championships for the first time and then wrapped it all up by repeating as the 1A/2A state champion.

For her efforts, she is the 2018 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.

“Not having a rival to go after this year, I thought she showed how strong her own internal drive is. She challenged herself to compete against the guys on our team and took a lot of pride in trying to be a leader each match for us,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs. “Considering the gap between her and the rest of the girls in the county, it would have been very easy for her to have a coasting attitude. But that’s not who she is. Her consistency in terms of scoring was a testament to her desire to continually improve.”

McIlvain had burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2016, averaging 19 points per match and finishing in second place at the county championship tournament on her way to being named first-team All-County. But there was also plenty of room for growth, as she shot a 98 at the District V tournament and failed to qualify for states.

She started working with private coach George Bradford that year and took her training to another level. The two have had regular practice sessions every Saturday since her first high school season, working on an array of physical and mental adjustments.

“Coming into high school I only had a little over a year of experience playing golf, so I had a lot to learn,” McIlvain said. “I feel like each season I’ve become a completely different player.”

Improvements were certainly evident McIlvain’s sophomore year, with her regular-season scoring average rising to 22.9 points a match and her scores at the county and district tournaments significantly better as well. In fact, her round of 77 at the District V event not only qualified her for states, but placed her alone in second place.

It was the state championship performance that year as a sophomore, however, that officially put McIlvain on the map.

“I always looked at the importance of winning that tournament as being two-fold. A big part of it was finally breaking into the winner’s circle, but I think going up against Jackie on that final day and finally beating her meant just as much,” Dubbs said. “In a way, it was almost as if the torch was passed and it was now finally [Faith’s] turn.”

This past offseason, McIlvain worked on adding distance off the tee to go along with a continued focus on her short game. She saw immediate results during her spring and summer tournament schedule and that carried right into the high school season.

This fall, she never scored worse than 26 points (1-over par) in any of her six regular-season matches and posted a career-best 30 points (3-under par) in a tri-match against Mt. Hebron and Hammond.

“That round was definitely one of the highlights of my season because it opened my eyes to what I could achieve if I play my best,” McIlvain said.

At the county championship tournament, she shot a round of 74 on the way to a 13-stroke victory. She then followed that up with another dominant effort at the District V tournament, posting a one-under-par round of 71 to win by 10 shots.

And for a cherry on top of her dominant campaign, McIlvain posted a two-day total of 153 (72-81) at the 1A/2A state championship tournament to put herself 13 shots clear of the field en route to winning for a second straight year.

Looking ahead to her senior year, with Marriotts Ridge slated to move up into the 3A/4A classification, McIlvain has a new challenge ahead. Winning a third consecutive state title — something no Howard County individual has ever done — will take outdueling a new group of talented players. Included is North Point’s Bailey Davis, who is the two-time defending state champion in the larger schools classification.

But when it comes to the prospect of potentially becoming the hunter once again, McIlvain said she has a brand new perspective.

“I’m smarter now. Playing against that level of competition, it’s not as much about them as it is about me and my game,” McIlvain said. “And during this offseason, I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure my game is ready. My goal is to keep the streak going … that’s my motivation now.”

Named to the first team All-County squad are:

Adrienne Lesho, River Hill, junior

Season highlights: The Hawks’ top player averaged 15.75 points per match, including a season-high 20 points in a victory over Atholton at Hobbits Glen, for a team that finished the year in third place at 8-2-1. She scored in double digits in every regular season round. Lesho was third at the county championship tournament with a round of 94, followed by an 88 at the District V tournament that was good for a fourth place finish. In the 1A/2A classification at the state championships, her opening-round 101 score missed the cut for the final round by 15 strokes.

Logan Lurie, Howard, junior

Season highlights: For a Lions’ team that finished 7-4, Lurie was the undisputed leader with an average of 16.8 points per match. Her 24 points in a win against Hammond served as her season high. She finished in fifth place at both the county championship tournament (99) and District V tournament (90), qualifying for the 4A/3A state tournament. She then wrapped up her season with an opening round score of 93 at states that missed the cut for the final day by nine strokes.

Joanna Park, Centennial, senior

Season highlights: The Eagles’ senior improved her scoring average by four full points this fall, up to 15.9 per match. She eclipsed 20 points on two occasions, including a season-high 21 points in a tri-match against Reservoir and Oakland Mills. She finished in ninth place at the county tournament with a round of 109 and in a tie for 9th at the District V tournament with a score of 98.

Alex Stone, Glenelg, senior

Season highlights: Posting a scoring average (13.7) just over a point more per match during the regular season this fall compared to her junior campaign, Stone was the top player for a Gladiators team that finished tied for third with a record of 8-3-1. She scored a season-high 16 points against Hammond at Cattail Creek. She placed alone in fourth place (94) at the county championship tournament and then concluded her season by finishing in a tie for ninth at the District V tournament (98).

Morgan Taylor, Centennial, junior

Season highlights: As the top player in terms of scoring average for an Eagles team that broke through to win a county championship, Taylor posted the county’s second-best scoring average of 17.3 points per match. She never scored fewer than 14 points and posted a season-high 21 in a tri-match against Reservoir and Oakland Mills. She finished alone in second at the county championship tournament (87) and alone in third at the District V tournament (85). Taylor then wrapped up her season by shooting a 94 in the opening round of the state championship tournament to miss the cut by 10 strokes.

Reach Brent Kennedy at bkennedy@baltsun.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports

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