YOUNGSVILLE — With two holes standing between her and a state title, Archbishop Hannan freshman Abbey Daniel reached into her bag for some quiet inspiration before hitting her tee shot on the par 3 17th hole at Les Vieux Chenes golf course.
She’d just seen her lead dwindle to three strokes from six after her close friend Julia Johnson of East Iberville — who had won three consecutive Division II individual titles entering this year’s tournament— birdied two straight holes. Daniel was feeling the pressure, so she pulled out a red leather notebook with the word “dream” embossed in gold script on the front cover.
“ ‘I need to calm down, I need to focus, I can still do this,’ ” Daniel recalled thinking to herself. “I was reassuring myself.”
As Johnson and Loyola Prep’s Alden Wallace hit their tee shots to the green, Daniel stood off to the side and read the inspirational quotes she’d written in various colors of Sharpie. She calmed herself, strode to the tee box and knocked her shot onto the green.
Two calm pars later, the 14-year-old Daniel capped off a 1-under 71 to claim her first state championship.
When she holed out a short putt on 18, Johnson sprinted over and doused her with a bottle of water to celebrate, followed with a bear hug and words of congratulations.
“We don’t get to pour Gatorade on the coach or anything, so if you ever win anything big, you kind of hope your friends are about to dump water on you,” Johnson said.
Daniel finished the second and final round with a 1-under 72, giving her two consecutive days in the red after she finished with a tournament-best 5-under 67 in the first round. She beat Johnson, the runner-up, by four strokes.
But Johnson wouldn’t make it easy for Daniel.
After clipping tree branches on back-to-back approach shots on the par 5 15th, Johnson holed out a greenside chip for birdie to pick up a stroke on Daniel.
On No. 16, Daniel’s approach shot drifted left of the green, and she was unable to get up and down to save par. She carded her first bogey of the day as Johnson holed out a birdie putt.
The three-stroke swing in two holes prompted Daniel to bust out her dream book on No. 17. But she still had work left to do.
Though she landed her tee shot on the green, she still had about 40 feet left to the hole. Her birdie attempt raced past the cup, leaving her a little less than 10 feet to save par.
Daniel stared down the putt for a long time, backing away at least once to gauge the speed and break again.
“That was nerve-wracking,” Daniel said.
She went back in her mind to the advice her book offered.
“One of the quotes I read was, ‘It’s not whether you’re sinking putts, it’s whether your thoughts are allowing you to sink putts,’ ” Daniel said. “That was one of the big things. I just had to reassure myself that I’m going to make this.”
Daniel drained the putt to keep her lead at three strokes, then made another clutch shot on No. 18, chipping to within a few feet from behind the green, to win the championship.
“I’m really proud of her, she finished really strong,” Johnson said. “She played really clutch today, she definitely deserves it.”
Daniel said the title “state champion” has a nice ring to it, but that wasn’t her main takeaway from a tournament where she shot 6-under.
“It was how I played this weekend which will really have an impact on my attitude in future tournaments,” Daniel said. “Before, I’d gone low, but I’d never gone as low as I did the first day. Now that I know that I can, hopefully I can start doing it consistently.”
Daniel was the only new champion on a day full of repeat winners.
Hammond Magnet junior Mary Frances Chauvin came back from a one-shot deficit to win her second straight state title with a 1-over 73 in the final round.
Sulphur (16-over 304) and Notre Dame (41-over 329) took home the Divisions I and II team titles for the second straight year as well.