Coach Andre Lopez has been with the Lenape High School Girls golf team since its 2017 inception, when a two-year pilot program was first approved to allow for the creation of girl-specific teams at Lenape, Cherokee, Seneca and Shawnee.
Before that, interested girls were left to play on the boys teams at their respective high schools. For some, not having a team of their own caused them to not play at all. For those who did elect to compete on the boys teams, it left only the top girls in the region with a real chance to compete on a daily basis.
Following the two year pilot program, the Lenape girls program has continued to blossom in recent years. It is now in its third year, following the cancellation of last season because of the pandemic.
Early last week, the team won the inaugural Burlington County Girls Open at Little Mill Country Club with a 385 team score for the Indians. Lenape took the top three spots in the invitational, with freshmen Angelina Tolentino, senior Alexandra Kahn and junior Emily Farbaniec taking the top three spots, respectively. Junior Kathryn Skidmore and sophomore Ryann Foley both placed in the top half of the field, at 7th and 12th, respectively, to round out the Lenape lineup.
Lopez hopes the girls can bring home the program’s first conference championship this season, after believing they had a real shot at the title last year, despite never getting the opportunity.
“Last year we had a stellar group of girls lined up,” Lopez said. “I had three seniors who were just amazing … These were athletes who just took up golf as a second sport and really fell in love with it and got good really quick.
“We figured we had our hands on a potential run at an Olympic Conference championship last year,” added Lopez.
Despite the roadblock last year, Lopez says the growing program is still seeing huge progress among its players since officially joining the NJSIAA and the 12-team Olympic Conference.
“Those seniors have since graduated and left on a little bit of a bitter note,” Lopez said. “This year, our goal was if we had a season, to go after it and make amends.”
The team contains a healthy mix of girls who either played golf growing up or weren’t familiar with the sport at all before walking through the doors of Lenape High School. Regardless, Lopez says he and his coaching staff want to do the best they can to teach golf to any girl that joins the team, and they have assembled a core group of girls just in time for Tolentino, the aforementioned freshman, to join the team.
“These are girls who, some of them, originally didn’t even know what the numbers on the bottom of the clubs meant,” Lopez said. “It’s been a very quick but very fruitful and successful progression thus far. When Tolentino joined the team and we saw her prowess on the golf course, I knew all we needed to do was have that core around her of solid, consistent golfers, which we have.”
Despite being a freshman, Tolentino has helped lead the Raiders to a 4-0 start on the year, while also finishing first in the recent Burlington County Open and the Red Devil Invitational earlier in the month.
Team captain Kahn hadn’t played golf before getting to Lenape, but decided to join upon reaching high school and after talking with her dad during freshman year, when the program was still in its pilot program stage.
Now four years later, Kahn has seen the program turn into something much bigger than perhaps originally anticipated.
“It’s been amazing; I’ve had the opportunity to watch it grow from the start,” said Kahn. “I’ve been here since the beginning, and to see how the program has grown as a whole, as well as myself with my game, it’s crazy. In talking with my coach, looking back, I’ve grown so much in terms of my game, my score, my swing … It’s been amazing to go through all of that.”
Skidmore, who placed seventh for the Raiders in the recent invitational, grew up playing golf before reaching Lenape, participating in a few different programs over the years.
But despite having grown up playing the sport, she is thankful that Lenape created its own girls team upon her reaching high school, with her freshman year coinciding with the program’s first year of recognition by the NJSIAA.
Because otherwise, she may not have decided to play at all.
“I was excited that we were an official team, because if we weren’t, I don’t know if I would’ve tried out for a coed team,” Skidmore said. “It can be really intimidating (to play on a coed team). It’s really nice here, because we have both girls that have played for a long time and some that are just starting, and having the all-girls team gives them the comfort and ability to be able to join.”