In the Holy Cross golf team’s five years of existence, the all-girls squad has found its opponents – nearly always boys – to be cordial and friendly. Sometimes, Coach Lenore Martinez said, the players have made new friends or even been asked out on a date or to prom.
While things have remained pleasant on the course this spring, Martinez noted, not everyone is all smiles after each match. That’s because, for the first time, the Tartans are beating some of their all-boys opponents.
“The boys do not like to lose to girls,” Martinez said. “I’ve had that several times where they march off and throw their clubs in the car and run off because they do not like to lose to a girl.”
It is extremely rare for boys and girls to compete against each other in high school sports; it’s usually seen only in instances where a school fields only a boys’ team and allows girls to join the team if they wish.
In Washington-area high school golf, most of the players are boys, even though teams generally are considered co-ed. When Holy Cross, an all-girls school in Kensington, elevated its club golf team to varsity status in 2006, school officials decided to have the team play in the league in which it competes in all other sports — the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Two of the WCAC’s top teams are from all-boys schools DeMatha and Gonzaga.
In the WCAC, teams play 12-hole matches, with each of six golfers playing a head-to-head match against an opponent; there are also three best-ball matches contested within each foursome.
The girls are allowed to play from tees that make the course 15 percent shorter than it plays for the boys. While some believe this to be a significant advantage, it had not paid any dividends until this spring, when the Tartans beat Bishop Ireton (a team with all boys) then followed that up with a victory over St. John’s (which had only boys in its lineup against Holy Cross). Earlier this week, Holy Cross beat O’Connell (also without a girl in its lineup) and the Tartans also have won two all-girls tournaments.
“It was a great feeling of accomplishment,” said junior M.J. Nogay, Holy Cross’s No. 1 golfer, who teamed with Mary Kate Bula to win a playoff against Ireton and earn the team victory. “All the practice and work we had done on our games paid off. St. John’s was a great second win, that was definitely unexpected.”
Said sophomore Kathleen Hanley, the Tartans’ No. 2 player: “I don’t think anyone expected us to beat the boys, even ourselves. But when we did, it was amazing.”
Holy Cross also came close against Paul VI Catholic, annually one of the WCAC’s top teams, before losing 5-4 in mid-March. The Tartans (3-6) will play in the WCAC tournament Monday at the University of Maryland.
“I’m not really that surprised at this point,” said Paul VI Coach Milt Papke, who said his teams have included just one girl in 27 years at the Fairfax private school. “In the beginning I was. But these girls, most of them probably belong to country clubs. That’s one reason they probably get to play a fair amount of golf. I think [the boys] realize these girls can play pretty well and are capable of beating you. I think they took it quite seriously.”
The night after that match, Paul VI’s top golfer, Brandon Luxenburg, called DeMatha’s top player, All-Met senior Ben Warnquist, to tell him to be ready.
“He told me she beat him pretty good, dropping [putts] and making birdies. He told me to pay attention and not to overlook anything,” Warnquist said. “I don’t know a good way to put this, but when you go back to school the next day, that’s the reason why you don’t want to lose to a girl, you’re going to get hounded by your buddies a little bit. There is definitely pride on the line. It’s tough when you’re playing a good girl.”
DeMatha beat Holy Cross, 9-0.
Nogay, whose older brother, Justin, played golf at all-boys Georgetown Prep, relishes the opportunity to play against the boys, though she said some of the team’s younger players can be intimidated by the boys’ ability to hit the ball further. Like many of the Tartans’ other golfers, Nogay plays in junior tournaments throughout the year, competing only against girls her age.
“I love the challenge of playing the guys, it keeps them motivated and keeps us motivated too,” Nogay said. “If we were playing girls, we’d be like, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ or other girl things. With the guys, we ask about how each other played or what tournament we are playing. It’s a different environment.”
Hanley, who is 6-3 this season (all against boys), agreed that boys generally are less talkative opponents. She said that halfway through most matches, the boys get even more serious “when they realize we’re still going and I haven’t lost yet. During the match, they’re great sports about it. Afterwards, they might get a little bit upset. They’ll shake my hand and sort of just walk off.”
Next season, the girls from Holy Cross will have company. Elizabeth Seton, an all-girls school in Bladensburg, fielded a golf team for the first time this spring. And while Seton’s team has just five members and is playing only three junior varsity opponents, Athletic Director Candy Cage is pleased with the turnout and plans to play a full WCAC varsity schedule next school year.
“They’re beating some guys’ teams?” Cage said after learning about Holy Cross’s victories this spring. “Nice! That’s great.”