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Conference champ Hatcher leads Lafayette into region play

JAMES CITY – When an athlete trains diligently in their sport, or goes above and beyond the standard, good things quite often will follow for them in the field of play.

Observers watching Lafayette senior golfer Tawni Hatcher had begun to wonder when her hard work would really pay off.

Then, Hatcher fired a competitive-best, one over par, 73, on Monday at Williamsburg National Golf Club in the 4A Conference 18 meet to win Player of the Year honors.

"We were running out of time for really good things to happen," Lafayette coach Pat Thompson said. "It couldn't have been better. To shoot a 73 any time, anywhere around par for a high school kid, that is incredible."

More important to Hatcher, Lafayette qualified for region play for the first time in about a decade with its second-place finish behind Jamestown in the team standings. Four strokes behind Jamestown, Lafayette shot a collective 324, which represented one of the Rams' best team performances of the season.

Hatcher's best round during the regular season was a 76 at her home course, Ford's Colony.

"I was hitting the ball better than I have all season," Hatcher said of the conference meet. "I just started hitting par after par. Then I hit a back-to-back birdie on 7 and 8."

Lafayette junior Jacob Smethurst took second individually, finishing two shots behind his teammate.

Smethurst finished Bay Rivers District play with the eighth-best scoring average (82), just ahead of Hatcher (82.27).

A local female high school golfer more than holding her own against the boys is nothing new. Jamestown's Emily Salamy, now a freshman on the Division III Rhodes College team in Memphis, Tenn, was probably the best high school player in the area last season.

Jamestown has regularly featured female players in recent years including, Christina Herbert, a standout sophomore for Bridgewater College. Tabb had also featured several female starters this season.

Girls must play 85 percent of the yardage that boys do in Virginia High School League competition. In the conference meet, Hatcher played from the gold tees and the boys played from the blue.

Her male counterparts give her a hard time on occasion, but usually that's just because she's – well, as good or better than they are.

"I hit my drive almost as far as they do, maybe even farther than a lot of them," Hatcher said. "They talk about it a lot, but it's pretty normal with Emily and Christina Herbert, too. They were both really good golfers and they definitely set it out there that girls can be good, too."

It's an especially poignant thing for Thompson to watch.

"As a female golf coach, I'm so excited about it," she said. "I just love to see females play. I'd love for females to have their own tournament and not have to intermingle with the guys. But right now with the numbers, you don't have that. Right now, the quality of performance with the young females is terrific."

Not only is Hatcher's performance good, she's Lafayette's leader.

"I think she really stepped forward," Smethurst said. "She's always the one to send group text messages, what time you need to be there, what stuff to bring."

Taking it a step further, Thompson said Hatcher "has been Lafayette golf."

She practices year round come cold or sleet.

Hatcher also swims at Lafayette and is Thompson's top singles player on the tennis team.

Hatcher's athletic background is more rich in tennis than golf. While both spent time playing golf, her parents, Greg and Lisa, were tennis pros, and Greg played tennis at Old Dominion University.

But Hatcher was drawn to golf and has played since she was 3, often playing as a youngster with her grandfathers on both sides of the family.

Male athletes often reflect on the first time they were able to beat their fathers in pickup games, a measuring stick of sorts. It was no different for Hatcher, who finally caught up to her dad a few years ago.

"It was a big deal for me," Hatcher said. "I was always trying to beat him and I finally got down into the 80s and the 70s. He got better with me, actually, so I had to work harder."

As much work as she's put in the sport and despite what Thompson calls a "gorgeous" golf swing, Hatcher won't play collegiately. She could go the Division II or III route, but has elected to choose her future school based on academics and wants to study biomedical engineering.

Hatcher admits she is a little surprised Lafayette is still alive in postseason play. In fact, many around the program didn't see this coming, even Thompson.

Outside of Hatcher, Lafayette's enthusiastic senior class isn't a veteran golfing group. It includes Jake Clark, Logan Smith, and Griffin Hurt. Clark and Hurt are tennis players and Hurt also wrestles while Smith has been a member of the Rams' golf team for two seasons.

That's part of what makes this so special for Thompson. The seniors seemingly came out of nowhere and the team scores just kept dropping.

Because of the weather, Lafayette and Jamestown will have to wait until Wednesday to start region play at Oceana Naval Base's Tom Cat Course.

"We're really excited," Hatcher said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. And I think we're going to have a good chance of going to states, too."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.

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