WEAVERVILLE – Not everyone on the golf course knew it, but North Buncombe sophomore Callista Rice was in agony on Oct. 21.
Even as the Black Hawks qualified for the NCHSAA 3-A tournament for the first time in school history.
Rice’s grandfather, coach and mentor in the game, Roger Buckner, was having heart surgery as the 3-A Western Regional tourney took place at Etowah Valley Golf Club & Lodge. Over the years, Buckner had been there for just about every competitive round that Rice played.
“It really threw me off,” Rice said.
“A lot of the other coaches were encouraging me and trying to help, but it’s probably the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through.”
Rice and the Black Hawks (307) came in second to team champion Marvin Ridge (281) that afternoon. Rice went on place 12th individually at the 3-A state tournament with a score of 162 (81-81) for 36 holes.
Her consistency shone through the rest of the season — Rice was a medalist 10 times and maintained an area-low stroke average of 35.7 for nine holes.
She is a repeat selection as the Citizen-Times All-WNC Golfer of the Year as well as a two-time Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Buckner has recovered and said he’s doing well.
“I’m pleased for Callista and pleased for the whole team to have the kind of season they did,” Buckner said.
“It really thrilled Callista for them to compete at the state tournament together. It meant more than going by herself. I hope it will arouse some interest locally in women’s golf. That has always been one of Callista’s objectives, and she has had so much support along the way from so many people.”
North Buncombe’s team consisted of Rice, seniors Shelby Spivey and Madison Menendez and junior Reagan Robinson.
“I knew this was the last year for (Spivey and Menendez) and I wanted it to be the best season it could be,” Rice said.
“We were able to play well when we needed to, and going to state as a team was a big goal.”
Rice switched her irons and driver in the past year, going to a Titlelist brand in both cases. Both she and Buckner said her overall course management has gotten better since her freshman season.
Rice used to play basketball at North Buncombe but has given up that sport to focus on golf full-time.
Along with her usual events on the juniors circuit, Rice will represent North Carolina in a pair of prestigious tournaments in 2015.
Rice and nine other North Carolina players are part of the field for the Carolinas-Georgia Junior Championship next month in North Augusta, South Carolina. Additionally, Rice is one of eight players from the Tar Heel state who will tackle the invitation-only Mid-Atlantic Junior Girls Team Matches on July 26-27 in Laurel Fork, Virginia.