Ava Catherine Banks

Ava Catherine Banks puts up a shot earlier this season for Tullahoma. 

Last Thursday, the Tullahoma High School girls’ golf team earned its second-straight berth into the state tournament, nabbing first place at the Region 4 Tournament.

For junior Ava Catherine Banks, this marked her third time that she would be qualifying for the state tournament. As a freshman in 2017, Banks took third place individually at the region tournament, guaranteeing herself a spot at state, which annually takes place at WillowBrook Golf Course in Manchester.

That year, Banks was the lone THS girls’ golfer on the roster. In fact, Banks was the first female golfer for Tullahoma in three seasons, since Ellen Morataya graduated in 2015.

“Her role has really changed from being a loner her first year,” said THS Head Coach Barry Bishop. “Every tournament that we went to, she was by herself as the only girl. When we would show up to tournaments, it would be her, and a bunch of guys and me. It kind of got on her nerves a little bit, but she stuck with it and qualified for the state tournament and had a great showing a freshman.”

Though Banks admits that she did feel intimated at times, it wasn’t because of the fact that she was the only girl on the team. According to her, those nerves came from her just being a freshman.

“Freshman year, I was constantly practicing with the boys team and getting to watch how they practiced and what their routines were,” she said. “I picked up a lot of mechanical and mental tricks from them. Of course I felt intimidated. Being one of the youngest on the team, and the only girl, was sometimes really hard.

“But, I’ve known most of the boys since I was a little girl. Because of playing golf when we were little, our parents being best friends, or going to school with them since pre-k, it was no big deal so it was never really overwhelming.”

During her freshman season, Banks battled to take third place the region tournament. She needed a playoff hole to seal that position though, as she and Siegel’s Susannah Blackwell both turned in 94s on the day. Needing just one hole to settle a winner, Banks captured the victory, securing a top three spot at region.

At the state tournament, the Tullahoma golfer finished 39th in the standings, carding a two-day score of +50. She put up a 91 on the opening day of the tournament, before adding a 103 on day two.

Last year, Tullahoma had enough players to field a girl’s team, as then senior Ashley Gilliam and freshman Mallory TeVrucht joined Banks on the links. The Three combined to earn a spot at state, totaling an overall score of 149.

At the state competition, the Lady Wildcats combined to take fifth place, totaling a one-day score of 164. Unfortunately for the Lady Wildcats, day two of competition was rained out, forcing the TSSAA to use the day one scores as the final standings.

At the region tournament this year, Tullahoma combined for an overall score of 159, edging out Lawrence County by four strokes. As a sophomore this year, TeVrucht led the Lady Wildcats and carded a 75 during her round. Freshman Grace Hicks added an 84, before Banks put up an 85.

“It’s really exciting that I have the chance to go back to state for the third year in a row,” Banks said. “It does make me nervous because I’ll be going back as a junior and I’m the oldest on the team.”

After last year, Bishop said he sat down with Banks and talked about improving her game. According to the THS Head Coach, he’s really liked what he’s seen from his junior this season.

“I’m super proud of the way that Ava has responded to the challenge that I put on her early in the season,” Bishop said. “We really sat down after the season last year and talked about how she could continue to make herself better and she did that during the offseason.”

While improving her game on the golf course, Bishop also noted that he’s seen a change in his player, namely from a leadership standpoint.

“Ava Catharine has rolled into the role where she is the mentor now,” he said. “She’s been working with both Mallory and Grace. She’s the older player and she has a little bit maturity when it comes to being out there on the golf course. That’s where we are calling on her to do something different.”

Banks said she is grateful that her coach acknowledged her leadership. At times, she noted that it can be a little tough, getting caught up in the moment with her friends. However, she did note that she takes the role seriously.

“For Coach Bishop to think that I’ve been a leader on the team, it means a lot,” Banks said. “Being a leader means that you have a lot of responsibility. Keeping the girls on task is sometimes hard because I’m sometimes off task with them. But, when I notice that we’re acting a little off and our game starts to get worse, I snap out of it and try to snap them out of it too.”

Heading into this year’s state tournament, which gets underway on Tuesday, Banks said her biggest goal is to keep her and her team focused. How does she do that? By reminding everybody to play their game one shot at a time.

“One thing that I’ve learned these past two years at state is: Keep your mental game strong,” Banks said. “No matter how bad you think you’re playing, just move on and finish as best you can. As my friend says, ‘It’s a game of hitting the tiny ball into the tiny hole, and every stroke matters.’”

The two-day state tournament will take place at WillowBrook Golf Course in Manchester on Tuesday and Wednesday. Start time on each day is scheduled for 8 a.m.

For more information on the TSSAA Large Class Girls’ Golf State Championships, visit tssaasports.com.