BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
It was a moment that longtime Rome Free Academy girls golf coach David Petrelli said that he will never forget.
The Lady Black Knights had raised the Section III banner, capping their impressive 13-2 season, and junior golfer Nicolette Darois had just shot her way to the overall top showing during the Section III girls golf tournament at Firefox with a score of 81 to take the medalist honors while leading the rest of the Romans to an overall first place finish in the team standings, beating out historically strong Fayetteville-Manlius by 18 strokes by the score of 352-370.
Darois’ 81 along with sophomore Mary Ann Bulawa’s 83 score, eighth-grader Lilly Bulawa’s 89 and Lauren Felice’s 99 helped the Lady Black Knights claim their first sectional title since the 1980s.
It wasn’t a surprise that one of Petrelli’s highly talented and young golfers had turned in the lowest score on the day at sectionals, but it was the way that his squad had blasted their way through a stiff field of competition during the meet that he said was something that would be unforgettable.
"This is the first time that I’ve had a group like this," said Petrelli, currently in his eighth year coaching at RFA. "Every girl on the team is a member at a golf course, where when I first took the job we struggled to get enough people on the team. So the sports program has definitely grown. I’ve never had this before, and it’s been a pleasure to coach. They all had a great season."
As for Darois’ sectional win, that didn’t stun Petrelli one bit.
"I knew she was capable of shooting that well, and right there with the top golfers in the section. It wasn’t a shock, because she has been solid all year, but I was very happy for her and I was very proud of her performance," he said. "She was in a good routine, she was in a good rhythm, but the main thing was that she stayed mentally focused throughout the whole round. She worked on that over the last few years, just being mentally tough, and she was able to do that and that led to her performance."
The Rome trio of Darois and the Bulawas, along with Holland Patent junior Rachel Halwig, will represent the section’s nine qualifiers from the sectional tournament including, Molly Hair and Victoria Roney from Jamesville-DeWitt, Allison Donella from Fayetteville-Manlius, Brianna Sovring from Cicero-North Syracuse, Emilie Oakes from the Christian Brothers Academy, as Katie Walsh from Baldwinsville will serve as first alternate during this weekend’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament at SUNY Delhi starting with Friday’s 11 a.m. practice rounds. The tourney will be held over two days on Saturday and Sunday.
Darois is in the first three-person flight group teeing off at 11 on the first hole, while Mary Ann Bulawa tees off at 11:40 and Lilly Bulawa tees off at 12:12 on the tenth hole. Halwig will tee off on the first hole in the 11:24 group.
Halwig came in second place during the sectional meet, finishing one stroke behind Darois with an 82.
Darois, who has played on the RFA golf team for five years, was averaging around "low 40s" this season and capped off her impressive season with her strongest round during the sectional meet. With Darois’ sectional victory, she also earned an invitation into the Symetra Tour, the new name for the LPGA’s developmental Futures Tour. The Symetra Tour will stop at Drumlins Country Club in July from 23-29.
RFA also won the Tri-Valley League title with a perfect 12-0 mark this season.
Petrelli said that Mary Ann and Lilly Bulawa were right around shooting "low 40s" all season and that all three of his state-bound golfers were very close to one another all year.
"All three of them did a phenomenal job for us this year. Could have been a toss-up as to who was going to medal every match between the three of them," he said.
"Mary Ann is mentally tough, has great knack around the greens, and can get up and down very well, while Lilly has a lot of strength, and she hits the ball very far and has been getting better every year," continued Petrelli.
Petrelli added that competing at SUNY Delhi for states will not be a new experience for Mary Ann after she qualified for states two years ago. He said that consistency has been the name of the game this week during practices at Rome Country Club.
"We’ve been just trying to stay consistent since that meet. Not trying to change much, and keeping the rhythm going. SUNY Delhi plays the same length as any course that we have played all year, so length won’t be a problem. We just have to play our games, not worry about everything else, and hopefully everything falls into place. It’ll be a nice experience for them, and hopefully we can bring something home for Section III," he said.
"I know their goal at the beginning of the year was to win a sectional title, and anything past that would just be a bonus. I know they had goals of making a state tournament. To go down there and shoot what they have been all year would be fantastic, anything better would be extraordinary."