For two years, current Quince Orchard High School junior Sophia Oristian was the lone girl on the Cougars’ coed golf team. In fact, until Oristian’s arrival in 2017, only one girl had ever made it into the starting lineup for a coed match, which consists of the team’s top six golfers for regular-season competitions, during Coach Russell Doane’s nine-year tenure. And only two girls, total, had joined the team.
Though female participation in high school golf is at an all-time high (79,821 student-athletes) according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, girls still only account for 35 percent of high school golf teams. Having grown up in a male-dominated sport, Oristian was already quite accustomed to being the only girl, as was often the case in Montgomery County Golf Juniors Golf League. But she admitted she still felt an added pressure to prove her worth among the Cougars’ upper echelon. Early this fall, after bouncing back from a bout with plantar fasciitis during her freshman season, Oristian has well established herself as one of Quince Orchard’s best and, Doane said, keeps getting better.
But this time around, she has younger sister and freshman Grace by her side.
“It’s nice to have another girl, especially it being my sister,” the elder Oristian said. “It’s been fun and we’re really enjoying ourselves out there representing our school and the Quince Orchard community.”
The sisters, who began playing golf almost as soon as they could walk thanks to their dad Steve’s love for the game, have been holding down Quince Orchard’s Nos. 3 and 4 slots interchangeably and played in both of the team’s first two matches. The Cougars, who won state championships in 1989 and 1993, qualified for states as a team six of the previous eight seasons. The team just missed out on qualifying for the season-ending competition last fall, finishing only two strokes over the 288-stroke cutoff.
Sophia, who leads the team in birdies, and Grace said they hope to help take the team one step farther this season.
Teams are allowed only five entries into the district competition, which is scheduled for Oct. 7. There, Quince Orchard’s top four finishers’ scores will count toward the team total and if that number is 288 or less, the foursome advances to states. Ten strokes are taken away from a team’s total for every girl who finishes in the top four. Individuals can earn a trip to the state competition by achieving a predetermined qualifying standard.
Returning to the top of Quince Orchard’s lineup this season is senior Kyle Balow, who qualified for the state championship last year as an individual and finished 10th. Junior Reuben Ellinport, who as a freshman was on the brink of making the starting lineup before playing every match in 2018, has moved up into the No. 2 spot and has “really improved his stroke average,” Doane said.
“For us (to do well this postseason), the main thing is they have to stop concentrating on if they have a terrible round,” Doane said. “Too many times golfers get discouraged, start thinking, ’Oh, I’m letting my team down,’ and start giving up. But you don’t know what everyone else is doing so you just need to stop trying to hit a miracle shot and just play smart golf. The skill set is there for us; golf is a game of the mind.”
The mental strength required to compete at the highest level in golf, and the versatility of a sport that is often mistakenly underestimated when compared to other more seemingly physical sports, is what interests Sophia and Grace the most, they said. Every outing is different, from weather conditions to fairway length, greens speed and more, constantly keeping them thinking and on their toes. But they appreciate having the support—and competition—of one another on the course, they said. Not only can they offer each other valuable advice, but they can drive each other to be better—a dynamic Doane said he had been looking forward to this season.
“We’re competing against each other all the time,” Sophia said.
Grace and Sophia are out on the golf course at least five days a week for no less than three hours, the elder Oristian said. Several days a week they’ll follow up 18 holes with a session at the driving range or on the putting green. In addition to coed matches, the sisters, who both aspire to play golf in college, compete in girls-only competitions on Wednesdays. And there are girls-only district and state championships. But Sophia and Grace are intent—and on course, Doane said—to compete with Quince Orchard in the team competition. In doing so, he and the sisters said they hope to draw more interest among females within the Quince Orchard community to give the sport a try.
“I always wonder why more girls don’t come out (for the team),” Doane said. “I know at Churchill he’s got nine girls, and I’m like, ‘Why can’t we have that?’ I’m hoping (Sophia and Grace) can help get more girls interested.”