LaBrae’s Harford aims to defend state title

It’s Friday night. The late-summer wind is blowing stronger, the sun is setting and the streetlights are glowing brighter.

Do you know where your kids are?

If you’re the parents of Haylee Harford, you know your teenage daughter is safe and sound in a comfortable, serene place. Her comfort zone – the golf course.

“I’m always out there practicing when I can,” said Harford, who was just coming off another successful round at Riverview Golf Club on Friday evening.

The Leavittsburg native and LaBrae High School junior has grown up just five minutes away from Riverview, making quick practice sessions relatively convenient at any time of day or night.

In a few years, course accessibility will be even easier. Recently, she committed to Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

“It’s a really pretty school,” Harford said. “The coaches are really amazing and friendly and I felt like part of the team right away. Plus, their home course is right on campus. It’ll be nice to walk right across campus and play a round or just practice on the driving range.”

She wanted to get her college decision out of the way quickly to focus on her final two seasons of prep golf and make a return to the state tournament. As a freshman at John F. Kennedy in 2011, Harford won the Division III Ohio State High School Athletic Association championship at Ohio State University’s Gray Course with a two-day total of 146, seven strokes better than the second-place finisher.

Last year, Harford attempted to take online classes, while playing in a number of national tournaments vying for more attention from colleges. After six weeks, and the conclusion of the varsity golf season, she enrolled at LaBrae. Now, she’s ready for another shot at the state title, though she’ll qualify as an individual because she plays on an all-boys team.

“Guys and girls play completely different,” Harford said. “I wouldn’t say that I struggle with the distance going against guys, but some are stronger.”

Through five high school matches, Harford is averaging 36 for nine holes. This summer, she won two national tournaments in Kentucky and New York. She also placed 26th at the Junior PGA Championship at the Trump National Course in Washington, D.C from July 30-Aug. 2, where she met The Donald, himself.

“I saw his helicopter flying in,” Harford said. “Then one of the girls ran to him asking for an autograph and a picture, so I kind of realized it was him but he looked a lot different.

“I got to talk with him for a little. We all just thanked him for hosting the tournament and told him it was a beautiful course.”

While it’s safe to say Harford is the top girls golfer in Trumbull County, another sure bet is on the Lakeview girls team to be the top squad.

Coming off its first All-American Conference National Division title and a sectional championship, Lakeview is set for another successful campaign. Sophomore Kaylee Neumeister recently shot an 80 to place first at a Tamer Win tournament, while junior Ryan Rosenberger placed fourth with an 86.

“They take the game very seriously,” Bulldogs coach Mike Turco said.

Turco is beginning his sixth season coaching and he’s also a fifth grade teacher at Lakeview Middle School. He has recruited girls for the team over the years and sees the younger girls taking more notice in playing.

“Parents are even buying in and encouraging their girls to play,” he said.

The Bulldogs went 10-7 with a 5-1 conference record in 2012. Their only loss came to Hubbard at Willow Woods.

Canfield is the team to beat in Mahoning County with two-year letter winner Christina Cooper leading the way. The Cardinals won the AAC American Division a year ago with a 13-1 record.

“We missed getting down to state by one stroke at districts – one stroke among four players,” Canfield coach Diane McCall said. “That one stroke has lived in our minds since last October, through the winter and through the summer. We are trying to prove to the otherwise this year. We all know truly what one stroke means.”

This weekend the team is playing in the Pickerington Invitational. The Cardinals scored a 331 on Friday as Cooper and Kerra Loomis each shot a 78.