Northeast senior Stephanie Connelly got to play on a world-class golf course, she made a significant contribution to her team's thrilling victory, and she was given more free gear -- shirts, hats, a golf bag, head covers and more -- than she could believe.
But perhaps the best part of participating in the prestigious Canon Cup, held last week at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, was how she got there.
The Ryder Cup-style event pits two teams (East and West, divided by the Mississippi River) of 20 players (10 boys and 10 girls) in a three-day match-play competition. Eight of the boys and eight of the girls on each team are selected on the basis of points earned in American Junior Golf Association events. The final four are chosen by the captain of each team.
Connelly, a three-time All-Met who has committed to play at Ohio State University, was a captain's choice. But East Captain Matt Cuccaro, the AJGA director of tournament development, was not the only one who had input.
"At our Rolex Tournament of Champions this year, all the other girls here on the team who made it by points unanimously picked Stephanie to be on the team," Cuccaro said. "That made my decision easy to pick her."
With her play, Connelly showed that her teammates and Cuccaro had made a wise choice. The two-time Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association champion went 2-2 in her four matches last week, and her performance was critical as the East squeaked out a 251/2-241/2 victory over the West.
In snapping the West's three-year winning streak, the East improved its overall record in the event to 8-6-1.
Connelly had a rough start. In her lone match of the first day, a best-ball match, she and partner Marika Lendl (Goshen, Conn.) -- the daughter of tennis great Ivan Lendl -- lost to Allison Goodman (San Diego) and Tiffany Joh (San Diego), 8 and 7.
On the second day, however, Connelly won both of her matches to help the East climb within one point (151/2-141/2) after starting the day trailing by four.
In the morning, Connelly and Jennifer Pandolfi (Navarre, Fla.) won their alternate-shot match against Esther Choe (La Quinta, Calif.) and Taylor Leon (Dallas), 1 up. In the afternoon, Connelly and Robert Riesen (Pinehurst, N.C.) won their mixed best-ball match against Lucas Lee (Torrance, Calif.) and Jennie Lee (Huntington Beach, Calif.), 1 up.
Connelly was particularly clutch in the afternoon match. She drained several momentum-changing putts and secured victory for herself and Riesen by sinking a 10-foot par putt on No. 18.
"It was uphill, pretty straight, just a little to the left," Connelly said. "I just played it right-center and just hit it, and it went in. It felt great."
The putt came in front of a large gallery, as Connelly's match was the last on the course that day, and the remaining players from both teams had gathered behind the green.
"That was when everyone was watching," Cuccaro said. "She knocks it in the back of the hole. And [Riesen] said that she saved him with putts that nobody even saw. That's pretty cool. That wasn't the only one she made."
In singles play the final day, Connelly played Choe tough for most of their match, but a three-hole stretch derailed her chances. Both players birdied the first hole, and Connelly came back from 1-down deficits twice on the front nine. But she lost the 10th, 11th and 12th with a pair of bogeys and a double bogey, and Choe birdied No. 13 to go 4 up. Connelly halved the next two holes with pars, but it was too late, and she lost, 4 and 3.
"I played great for nine holes; then I screwed up three holes in a row," Connelly said.
Still, the final day's loss could not put a damper on her experience and her team's thrilling victory.
"It was just amazing," Connelly said. "It was so cool to be right here where I take lessons, and being so close to home. And we won. It was just amazing."