The Ironwood Ridge High School girls golf team began the season with the theme “It’s About Time” to recognize the program making strides. The Nighthawks have since tweaked the theme to better match the true spirit of their season. Now “It’s Our Time.”

Last month, Ironwood Ridge became the first team from Tucson to post five qualifying scores to earn a berth to the Division II state tournament. After running their season record to 16-1 with an 183-243 win over Mountain View last week, the Nighthawks credited their cohesiveness and new coach for the success.

The girls wore pink ribbons and pink on their black Nike Airs. For home matches, they wear blue shirts and blue bows and silver on their shoes. Away from the golf course, they go to movies, eat together and have sleepovers. On the way to meets, they talk about their day or sing together.

“We have a really good relationship,” said senior captain Ellen Springs, the No. 1 golfer. “All of us get along. We help motivate each other and push each other to get better.”

After beating Mountain View, freshman Torrey Browning told her teammates she eagled on the first hole at El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort. Springs gave her a high-five. The team features a mix of skill levels, from beginners to veterans who have their own stroke coaches. Coach Don Dickinson said the golfers lower in the lineup have improved their games, bringing them closer to the top of the lineup.

“When we practice, we like to help each other,” junior Kenzie Rogers said. “When I’m having a bad day, I’ll ask, ‘Ellen, Adrianna (Grijalva), look at my swing, what is going on?’ They’ll help me through it. That’s how we got successful.”

The Nighthawks have found success after undergoing change. Dickinson took over coaching the team after he led Ironwood Ridge’s girls basketball team the last two seasons.

The Nighthawks needed a golf coach and turned to Dickinson, who has golfed but has more experience coaching tennis. He has been a tennis pro since 1983.

Dickinson said he is more of a general manager/part-time psychologist than a stroke coach. He sees similarities between the games of golf and tennis, especially on the mental side. He has helped the team set goals.

“They surprised themselves – it was a major goal this year to qualify for state,” Dickinson said. “Wow.”

Based on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s list of qualifiers, Ironwood Ridge became the first Tucson girls team to qualify for Division II state Oct. 28-29 at Aguila Golf Course in Phoenix. The Nighthawks shot a 190 Sept. 15 in the third week of the season at Omni Tucson National for their fifth qualifying score.

Accomplishing a significant goal early in the season alleviated pressure, allowing the Nighthawks to focus on improving their games.

They have also reached milestones of shooting below 175 on nine holes as a team (163 at El Conquistador Country Club), and they have aimed for individual goals. Freshman Sydney Colwill improved from shooting in the 60s to shooting a 49 recently.

Players credited Dickinson’s involvement for the progress.

“Everyone was just motivated this year because last year we didn’t qualify as a team,” Springs said. “With a new coach and new organization for practices, it got everyone motivated to do better this year.”

Overall, the team is enjoying more support.

“Our parents have really gotten involved,” Rogers said. “Our coaches are taking us seriously. All of our parents are doing something. We have pictures. We have new uniforms and bags.”

During senior day Thursday against Mountain View, banners showing the team’s two seniors, Springs and Amanda Madlangbayan, hung from a tent. They read, “Senior Day. We appreciate you!”

Browning and Springs shot 44 to tie for third, Mountain View’s Stephania Ochs shot 43 for second, and Grijalva won with a 42.

For their season bests, Springs shot a 38, Grijalva 36, Browning 39, Rogers 41 and Madlangbayan 53 on Thursday. Grijalva’s best score was at Dell Urich, while the others were at El Conquistador Country Club.

“This is my best season so far,” Madlangbayan said. “The girls, they’re really encouraging.”

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