Team Nickname — a.k.a. Twin Lakes girls golf — comes into Saturday’s 18-team Lafayette Regional at the Battle Ground Golf Club eager to prove there’s more to this group than just a creative identifying method.
In the Twin Lakes Sectional champions’ five-player starting lineup, there are two Taylors, two Graces and a Kaitlyn. In order to avoid two heads turning when someone says, “Taylor,” or two heads turning when someone says, “Grace,” seniors Taylor Hornung — the sectional medalist with a 76 — and Taylor Russell helped assign everyone a nickname.
Taylor Russell is T-Nasty. Taylor Hornung is Horn Dog. Sophomore Grace Winkle is Big Dubs and sophomore Grace Milligan is simply Milligan. Freshman Kaitlyn Cook needs no nickname.
Thanks in large part to T-Nasty, whose older brother, Blake, was a standout golfer at Twin Lakes, and Horn Dog, who rarely takes a weekend away from golf, Twin Lakes regained the sectional championship it lost a year ago to Kankakee Valley, won the Hoosier Conference tournament and posted a 10-3 record in dual meets.
Twin Lakes, which has won 15 sectional titles in the past 16 seasons and 16 sectionals overall, 10th-most in Indiana history, is gunning for its first trip to the IHSAA’s state finals since 2008.
Hornung birdied the final hole of last week’s Twin Lakes Sectional to complete her 76 and is excited about attacking a Battle Ground course that she says is a like a second home for her team.
“Playing constantly has helped my game so much during the past four years,” Hornung said. “My short game has gotten tremendously better. I have hit more greens in regulation and have fewer putts. I’ve gotten a lot better chipping … just my whole short game is so much better.
“To medal in my last sectional was incredible, especially walking up there and seeing the whole crowd around the Tippecanoe Country Club clubhouse and then making a birdie. To have the crowd roar like that was incredible. I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life.”
Russell didn’t begin playing golf until sixth grade but wanted to follow in brother Blake’s footsteps. He was an eighth-grader at the time.
“That’s the whole reason I got started,” Russell said. “Most people always want to be like their big brother. Through watching him, I got more competitive and saw how much fun it was to compete.”
Having regained the sectional title, Russell says the Indians are well prepared for regional competition.
“It gives the team a lot of confidence,” Russell said. “We battled this year and brought the sectional trophy back home.”
Twin Lakes coach Shannon Gardiner started to have high expectations for this team early in the summer when Hornung and Russell began to build team chemistry by staging campouts and cookouts that included Cook, Winkle and Milligan.
The two Indians seniors have encouraged middle school players to join the program, and Gardiner has six, including four eighth-graders, who can’t wait to play varsity golf for Twin Lakes.
“Those two seniors really brought this team together,” Gardiner said. “I’ve coached 25 years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team that has this kind of chemistry. They work so hard for each other, and that’s because of the two Taylors’ leadership. They have made it their mission to make everyone on the team better.
“Having two girls like that just changes everything for the entire team. It’s like having two extra coaches. They never give up, and the others see that. We’re very, very lucky, because they are great kids. What keeps a program going is when they care enough to get other kids involved, especially the really young kids.”
Gardiner is eager to see what this team can do at the regional level.
“It’s a goal-oriented group,” Gardiner said. “They began the season with some very specific goals. Everything has been checked off except for taking that last step, which is making it to the state championship. If they have their best day Saturday, it definitely could happen.”