BELLINGHAM - Suddenly, Mount Baker's most surprising freshman girl golfer in years is starting to become accustomed to friends quipping that she's becoming "Verry, Verry, Verry good."
"I'm beginning to hear that all the time," Natalie Verry said with a laugh as her five teammates smiled and giggled with happiness about the first-year golfer's 96 at the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament on Thursday, May 15, at North Bellingham Golf Course.
Verry, who had her team's top score, was among five Whatcom County girls and at least 19 local boys to make the cut for the Tri-District Tournament on Tuesday, May 20, at Bremerton's Gold Mountain Golf Course.
"It's amazing. I don't think I've had a freshman girl who broke 100," said Mount Baker girls' coach Mike Lembo, in his eighth season. "I didn't think she would be playing varsity and here she's been our best golfer in the last three matches (including a 98 three days earlier). She's kind of quiet but she's a great kid."
On the boys' side, Baker senior Kenneth Wilson shot a 2-over-par 74 to lead 41 golfers - one stroke better than his excellent season average.
Blaine senior Devin Boucher, who averaged 78.6 for the regular season, said he shot his best round of the year, a 77, to finish second. Lynden Christian junior Lincoln Olson, who averaged 75 during the regular season, shook off bogeys on his first four holes to finish with a respectable 80.
"This is my home course, so I felt pretty comfortable," said Wilson, who had two birdies and four bogeys. "I had a bogey on my first hole (the 10th, in a shotgun start) and then had birdies on No. 11 and No. 12. I just told myself I had to come back after that first hole."
Wilson, who tied for 12th at Class 1A state last year with Olson, said both of them would like to finish at least in the top six this time around if they can qualify for state.
"I didn't play that great today," said Olson, who finished with eight bogies and one birdie. But his experience and poise prevented him from being discouraged by his slow start.
"I just looked at it as a day to move on," said the personable Olson.
Boucher, who tied for eighth at state last year, was pleased with his 77, which he said matched his best high school score. He had six bogeys and one birdie.
"I think if I can finish within the top eight at state, I'd be happy," said Boucher, who plans to major in turf grass management at Washington State University so he can make a career of caring for golf courses.
Would he like to become good enough to design courses?
"That would absolutely be my dream, to design courses," Boucher said.
Also among the guaranteed qualifiers for tri-districts were Lynden Christian's Travis Roosma (92), Erik Vander Velden (93), Grant Ruppert (95), Kaden Sterk (96), and Mount Baker's Dennis Kashubin (83), Tanner Bass (84), Matthew Multop (90), Mason Bass (91) and Justin Baddeley (94) as the entire Mountaineers team survived the cut.
At press time in the long tournament, which started at 3 p.m., LC's Koy Sterk (99) was engaged in a playoff in the gloaming after sunset with South Whidbey's Jeff Bueler (99) for the 28th and final qualifying spot.
Advancing for Meridian were Nick Rautenberg (85), John Kihm (85), Joel Eschbach (88), Sam Chambers (92) and Ben Ratzlaff (93). Also qualifying for Blaine were Aaron Onyon (95) and Charlie Baldwin (95).
On the girls' side, Baker's Baylee Backstrom (103), Emma Brown (109) and Bria Henthorn (109) along with Meridian's Anna Ratzlaff (102) made the cut, which was 109. Baker's Gemma Wilson (114) will be one of the two alternates to Tri-District.
Hannah Hoh of Kings (79) and Kendra Meeker of Friday Harbor (86) led all 21 girls' scores.
"Natalie shot a 98 earlier in the week," noted senior teammate Brown, who said she was "Verry, Verry, Verry proud of Natalie."
Brown, a team leader, couldn't contain her enthusiasm for Verry's improvement.
"She's cutting strokes off her game every time out," Brown said.
"Natalie's really pushing it," said sophomore Ellie Baddeley, who missed the cut at 116 but still took the time to sportingly praise her teammates on the close-knit Baker squad..
Verry said she has surprised herself with her quick improvement.
"When I started the season on JV, I was all over the place," she said with a laugh.
But Brown said she has been impressed with Verry's poise.
"Natalie's a cool customer," Brown said. "I'm really proud of her. She never brags about herself."
CLASS 1A DISTRICT GOLF
At par-72 North Bellingham GC
Top scores and local scores
Boys (the cut was 98, with two 99 scores engaged in a late playoff for the final Tri-District spot at press time)
Top scores: Kenneth Wilson (Mount Baker) 74, Devin Boucher (Blaine) 77.
Mount Baker: Kenneth Wilson 74, Dennis Kashubin 83, Tanner Bass 84, Matthew Multop 90, Mason Bass 91, Justin Baddeley 94.
Lynden Christian: Lincoln Olson 80, Travis Roosma 93, Erik Vander Velden 93, Grant Ruppert 95, Kaden Sterk 96, Koy Sterk 99.
Meridian: Nick Rautenberg 85, John Kihm 85, Joel Eschbach 88, Sam Chambers 92, Ben Ratzlaff 93, Ryan Holz 104.
Blaine: Devin Boucher 77, Aaron Onyon 95, Charlie Baldwin 95, Chad Reimer 113, Taylor Ness 128.
Girls (the cut was 109)
Top scores: Hannah Hoh (King's) 79, Kendra Meeker (Friday Harbor) 86.
Mount Baker: Natalie Verry 96, Baylee Backstrom 103, Emma Brown 109, Bria Henthorn 109, Gemma Wilson 114, Ellie Baddeley 116.
Meridian: Anna Ratzlaff 102.