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Unsuspecting start led Interlake golfer to state | Prep sports feature

(Left to right) Delaney Douglas, Danielle Niemann and Aleana Groenhout are at the 3A state tournament for Interlake. - Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter
(Left to right) Delaney Douglas, Danielle Niemann and Aleana Groenhout are at the 3A state tournament for Interlake.
— image credit: Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter

When the 3A state girls golf tournament began early Tuesday morning at Lewis River Golf Course near Vancouver, the field of around 80 was filled with lifetime golfers, girls who had reached the top of the prep game after spending much of their childhood on the course.

It also included Danielle Niemann.

While the Interlake senior's early years weren't spend trolling fairways, she has more than made up for it since coming to the game as a freshman for the Saints and now finds herself among the state's best along with Aleana Groenhout and freshman Delaney Douglas.

Not a product of her team's home course and Bellevue neighborhood of Tam O'Shanter like Groenhout, Douglas and so many of Interlake's other golf prodigies, Niemann's inspiration to join the golf team was inauspicious.

"I didn't have a spring sport," she said. "I was thinking about track, but my sister did track so I wanted to start something new and play golf."

After a single trip to the driving range with her father and without having ever played a round of golf, Niemann packed up a pair of heirloom clubs from the garage and set on a path that has made her a part of KingCo title and Sea-King District championship teams and state tournament appearances in two classifications.

Of course, the road had its rough stretches.

With a talented group of upperclassmen and on one of the league's most successful teams, Niemann struggled to climb above the final spot in the team rankings throughout her first year.

"I was just trying not to double-par every hole and get through it," she said. "I started practicing a lot and getting into it and looking back, that paid off."

From working on the driving range mats, hitting buckets of balls into the hanging nets to tune the mechanics of her swing, to developing a consistent short-game and eventually finding her confidence on the green and off the tee, Niemann said her dedication to the game has taken her to places she never imagined on the course. It has also given her a much needed reprieve from the more regulated atmosphere of volleyball, where she was a four-year varsity player for the Saints.

"I just like being out here," she said. "Especially after school, getting to be outdoors in the open, it is less intense."

Even after she came into her own the course, challenges still arose, including this year when one of her International Baccalaureate tests conflicted with her tee time for the KingCo Medalist Tournament, leaving her without a playing group. An athletic director from another school in the conference played the round with Niemann to make it legitimate as she shot her way to districts and then state.

Interlake golf coach Doug Calvert said the entire process of her growth has been a testament to a determined character.

"She is the example of hard work, tenacity and not getting discouraged," Calvert said. "She is doing the full academic thing all the time but she is responsible and always the first one here, doing the right thing."

Former, current freshman sensations hunting title

When Aleana Groenhout was a freshman at Interlake two years ago, Calvert had heard the tall tales about 200-plus yard drives and a potential collegiate career down the road. At the time, he reserved judgement and the now-junior has done nothing other than build that reputation in the two seasons since, making a pair of state tournaments and winning the KingCo title this year after a dominating regular season.

"The biggest difference I'm seeing, she is just more focused," he said. "Her shot routine is visible and consistent, she is playing a lot smarter."

Groenhout has repeatedly discussed a more concerted effort on the mental aspect of the game — regrouping quickly after a poor shot, planning her way through the course – and said that focus will increase in her first 3A state tournament after a pair of appearances in 2A.

She held a three-stroke lead after the first day of play last year at Spanaway Lake before a second-day 84 left her in third place and six strokes off the championship pace. But after another year of seasoning and with an ever-shortening list of elements left to refine, she hopes this year can include a more fitting conclusion.

"I kind of learned how to play the game," she said. "I would get really down if I hit a shot in the rough. Now, I know it isn't that big of a deal, I can work with it."

For the rest of KingCo that was a frightening revelation and Calvert said even against top-level competition at state, Groenhout wields a powerful weapon with her on-course demeanor and experienced aura.

"She is such a tough competitor, and so athletic," he said. "She is an intimidating golfer."

As one of his trio enters the prime of her days as a prep, another is just entering the fray.

Delaney Douglas is only a freshman but like her neighbor at Tam O'Shanter Groenhout did two years ago, has made herself known and is in the state tournament on her first go around and enjoyed the process.

"We've grown up together and it was always the plan to golf together in high school," Douglas said. "I'm so excited, this has been the best experience ever."

Douglas finished in a tie for seventh at districts and Calvert said if she is able to take in the experience of her first state tournament, she could find herself one of the 40 players left on the final day.

"She doesn't know that she's good yet, which is good," Calvert said.

State golf tournaments began in all classifications for boys and girls Tuesday. Check the Reporter for updated scores from those rounds throughout the week.

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