Hempfield girls golf team savors successful 1st season, plans encore

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 | 1:07 PM

Like trying to fly a ball out of a deep bunker, Katie Miller Gee took a bit of a blind swing this year.

But, as she has done often in her life, it seems like she just might have hit an impressive shot.

Miller Gee is the first coach of the Hempfield girls golf team, which competed at the WPIAL level for the first time this fall. It was an undertaking that, last year, Miller Gee was unsure would work out.

“We needed the five (players) to take four scores, so my biggest concern was if we were going to have enough players,” said Miller Gee, a 2003 Hempfield grad who played collegiately at North Carolina after competing with the Spartans boys team. “We ended up having six players, which was great. It gave everyone some playing experience in every match.”

Last fall, Hempfield competed as a club team. When Miller Gee was hired in April, she knew that, above chipping and putting, she needed to emotionally connect with her new players.

“I wanted to get to know them and how they learn. That’s a big part of golf in general,” she said. “That’s what makes good swing coaches and good college and high school coaches anyways. Once I got to know them a little bit, I was able to help a few of them with anything from their swing to their short game. We talked about course management, and then mentally and emotionally managing a few of the matches.”

In a sport that often comes down to the mental state of athletes, Miller Gee knew the best path to quick success was through candor.

Said Miller Gee: “One of the girls said to me, ‘I’m nervous.’ And my response was, ‘Well, good. If you weren’t, you’re either dead on the inside or you don’t care.’

“That was definitely positive, for sure, just to talk openly about those kinds of reactions and feelings about things.”

It helped that Hempfield had a strong leader on the course.

The Spartans’ top golfer was senior Raina Jones, who shot 87 at the WPIAL team championships to place 17th. She also scored an 84 at the individual Class 3A championships on Oct. 7, finishing 18th.

“The consistency was there,” Miller Gee said. “You just kind of knew that she was always going to put up a pretty good number, no matter the day or circumstance.

“I wish I had more time with her, to be honest. But she was great. She was able to learn a little bit. For her, it was about managing the mental, the emotions, that side of things more than anything. Once she realized that we could have those more vulnerable conversations, she was more comfortable with it, too. It helped her.”

Hempfield will graduate three seniors, including Jones. But Miller Gee already has heard from three eighth graders about their intentions to play next year. And the team will welcome back two current sophomores and a freshman.

That ninth grader is Milano Yannascoli, who, despite missing a match because of cross country obligations, was able to have her scores count in all of the matches in which she competed.

“I’ll definitely look to her (next year),” Miller Gee said. “Even though she’s young, she’s mature on the golf course. She’s going to be a leader as a sophomore.”

Miller Gee, who is married to Oakmont Country Club pro Devin Gee and is active in youth and women’s golf in the region, also knows that she might have to do a little internal recruiting to continue to bolster the depth of the program. And she is willing to take steps relevant to the age group she is reaching out to.

“We have an Instagram page,” Miller Gee said. “Showing the positive atmosphere is what’s going to keep it going. You look at other teams — Indiana, Gateway, Franklin Regional — they’re 15 girls deep.

“I know that we’ll be there. It’s just going to take a little time for those girls to realize that it’s a great opportunity.”

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