On the links, balanced Golden Bears off to fast start

Yaneek Smith

Despite having a great season in 2020, some expected Gibsonburg girls golf to take a step back with the loss of its star golfer, Sydney Leyerle.

Leyerle, who finished second in the Division II state meet last year, graduated and is now golfing at Indiana Wesleyan University, an NAIA school, in Marion.

In ’20, the Golden Bears won their sectional and finished fifth in the district, just one spot short of the state tournament. This year, the club has made up for the absence of Leyerle and steamrolled to being one of the area’s top teams. Gibsonburg, which practices at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fremont and plays in the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division, is 7-1.

Seniors Morgan Albanese and Taylor Sworden have taken the lead, averaging a 45.8 and 47.6, respectively. Juniors Ellie Stout (50.2) and Jenna Spanfellner (58.5) and sophomore Ellie Stout (58.4) have contributed to the team’s success as well. They’ve won nearly every match this year.

In matches this year, Gibsonburg defeated Sandusky St Mary’s at Mills Creek Golf Course 187-209 as Albanese shot a 44, Sworden 46, Stout 47 and Spanfellner 50. The girls also defeated St. Mary’s 201-218 at Sycamore Hills as Albanese was match medalist with a 47. 

The Bears defeated Edison 188-205 at Thunderbird South Golf Course as Sworden was match medalist with a 41. Albanese shot a 44, Stout shot a 48 and Jade Kayser a 55. The girls also defeated Edison 192-221 at Sycamore Hills Golf Course as Albanese was match medalist with a 43, and defeated Margaretta 203-233 at Woussickett Golf Course as Sworden was match medalist with a 44.

“They’ve done a really good job. When one is a little bit off, the other one seems to pick (the team) up,” said Gibsonburg coach Brent Liskai. “Morgan and Taylor have been our medalists in each match. Ellie has snuck in there, we know what we’re going to get out of her, and when you count four scores, you see Jenna and Jade doing well, too.”

Some of the highlights this season include victories at the Willard Invitational as well as the Danbury Jamboree, where the team had its lowest score of the season of 183 at the Oak Harbor Golf Club, and a sixth-place finish (out of 17 teams) at the Tiffin Columbian Invite. At the Willard Invitational they battled the heat and had a solid finish on the back nine to win by three strokes.

Gibsonburg finished third out of seven teams at the Wildcat Invitational at Hidden Hills Golf Course with a team score of 406. Albanese, Stout and Sworden made the all-tournament team with scores of 91, 93 and 94. They placed first out of six teams at the Danbury Jamboree at Oak Harbor Golf Course with a team score of 183. Albanese shot a 42, Sworden and Stout shot 44s, Jade shot a 53 and Spanfeller shot a 54. 

Sworden has been the medalist four times and Albanese has achieved that honor twice.

Despite having been a program for just the last three years, the Bears have won sectional titles in each of the last two seasons.

“We knew we’d be competitive. I still think we can improve a lot, but the girls we have back are good. We’ve only had a full program for three years, and as a team, we’ve made it to districts three years in a row,” said Liskai, now in his fourth year coaching the team. 

“Last year, we were one spot from going to state, and we lost the (individual) state runner-up (in Leyerle). These girls have played in big-time tournament settings. They’re not in awe. We’ve played against good competition and the SBC has really good girls golf programs.

“Golf is a game where you can tell who has put in a lot of time. They have put in time because everyone thought we’d have a huge drop-off because we lost Sydney. They’ve put the time in and they’ve all improved.”

What’s impressive is how dominant Gibsonburg has been. In the team’s seven victories, some have come against bigger schools in the SBC Bay Division. Overall, they’ve won matches by an average of 27.2 strokes.

It’s safe to assume that the Bears will be in contention for a return to districts with a shot at getting down to Columbus.

Liskai is known to many for his 19 years coaching the boys basketball team, where he is the program’s all-time leader in victories. He teaches social studies at the high school, is a 1989 graduate of Gibsonburg and a ’95 graduate of Bowling Green State University. He has been a teacher for 27 years with the last 20 coming at his alma mater. Offering instruction to Gibsonburg golfers has been one of his favorite passions.

“I really have had fun with the golf team. Basketball has been my passion for a long time, and golf is totally different — basketball is very intense, you’ve got to be there all the time, and golf, it’s about handling your mistakes and handling your emotions,” Liskai said. 

“It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s so different than what I do in the winter. The girls are very competitive, and it’s been enjoyable because it’s something new and different. We haven’t been a program very long, so having (this kind of success) is pretty exciting.”








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