GIRLS GOLF ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Kathryn Wagoner, Middleton

Kathryn Wagoner’s eyes filled up with tears after sinking a putt on the 18th green at the 4A State Girls Golf Championship at Pinecrest Golf Course in Idaho Falls.

The Middleton girls golfer wasn’t crying because she had won a state championship or even placed for that matter. She actually didn’t do either.

No, the senior was crying because it was likely the final putt of her competitive career. While Wagoner didn’t take home a title or place at state, she still had much to be proud of this season. Wagoner capped her career with four top ten finishes as a senior, including a runner-up finish at the 4A District III Championship.

For these achievements, Wagoner is the 2016-17 Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Girls Golf Athlete of the Year.

“It’s bittersweet. Golf was such a key aspect of high school for me, and I can’t believe it’s over,” Wagoner said. “It’s really hit me that it’s the end. But at the same time, I’m content. All the early morning van rides, and all the golf balls hit on the range were worth it.”

Unlike in previous years, Wagoner faced a unique new challenge this season. After three years of having other golfers to look up to and learn from, she was the only returner back from last season’s state runner-up team.

Wagoner was one of only two upperclassmen, but the other, Kali Crawford, only started golfing last year. The rest of the team consisted of a sophomore and two freshmen, which included her younger sister, Davis.

But she faced that challenge head on. Wagoner took a youthful, inexperienced team under her wing and guided them to a successful season.

The Vikings won the 4A District III Championship for the third straight season to qualify for the state tournament for the 11th consecutive year.

“Kathryn was our team mom and would always calm us down before matches and wish us the best of luck,” freshman Emalie Wood said. “She was proud of us no matter what the results were.

“She always had tips for me to see things I needed to work on and she always made it fun. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

Wagoner herself had a great showing at districts. She shot a 90 for a second-place finish, her highest showing ever at districts.

But Wagoner and the rest of the team unfortunately couldn’t carry that momentum to the state tournament. She carded a 92 on the first day, which was not only 19 strokes off the leader, but two shots back of fellow teammate Wood.

“It was tough. Golf is such a mental game, and that first day I let myself get stuck in a rut,” Wagoner said. “Once we left the course, I took a moment to look around at my teammates and my coaches and reminded myself that this was my last state tournament.

“I didn’t want to spend my last two days miserable. So I put that round behind me the next day, and started over. “

Wagoner was four strokes better on the final day of competition, but it wasn’t enough to get her into medal contention. She sank a 5-foot bogey on the 18th hole, which in all probability, was the final one of her golf career to finish the day with an 88 and a 36-hole final score of 190.

Wagoner and the rest of the team missed the medal stand. The Vikings missed out on a state trophy for the first time in three years by 24 strokes. It was the first time in Wagoner’s high school career she hadn’t placed at state. An unfitting end to a golfer who had placed at state three times before, including a fourth-place finish as a sophomore. Wagoner also led Middleton to a team title in 2015.

“It’s hard for me not to think she’s one of the top five, maybe top three girls golfers we’ve ever had here at Middleton,” Middleton coach Alex Maxwell said. “She meant everything during the four years she’s been here.

“It wasn’t just about her scores, but the kind of teammate she was. The way she helped her teammates and coaches really laid the foundation of the success we had over the years. Next year is going to be rough. I’m already missing her. She’s a pretty sweet girl to me. She’s a pretty special kid.”

Wagoner elected to give up golf to focus on her studies. She’ll be attending Idaho State University in the fall. Wagoner wants to study English and teach it as a second language.

While it wasn’t the fairy tale ending for Wagoner, it’s still a career she is proud of and one she wouldn’t trade for the world.

“Yes it was disappointing the way it all ended, but the time I spent golfing these past four years were the best part of high school,” Wagoner said. “Not because I have this insane love for the sport, but because of the people involved with it. I made friendships with people I would have never met and I created lasting bonds that I hope to maintain for years to come.”

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