Golf teaches you things you can’t learn anywhere else and it gives you experiences you never thought would be possible. Annie Stencel, a junior a Walsh Jesuit High School
, can attest to that. From a very young age, Annie has used golf as a springboard to success both in and out of the classroom. She has developed into one of the top players in Northeast Ohio and someone that her coaches, teammates, and opponents both respect and admire.
Annie’s love for golf started at a very young age. “I was four or five years old,” she said. “My grandpa would come down from Buffalo to play golf with my dad. One day I asked, ‘Why can’t I go with you?'” The next day, she was at St. Bernard’s Golf Club in Richfield with her father, learning how to swing a club. Over a decade later, Annie Stencel was teeing the ball up at Brookledge Golf Course playing in the District Tournament as an individual qualifier. She admits it wasn’t an easy road to get there. “I played in the PGA Junior League and joined a middle school team coached by Greg Jones. I played mostly with boys in those programs.” This experience helped her move her way into individual competitions and prepared her for high school golf. “I was humbled by the talent,” she explained, referring to the Northern Ohio PGA Junior Tour and her OHSAA opponents. She made it her mission to get better and compete with the talented players she met along her journey.
Between her sophomore and junior year, Annie improved her scoring average by over six strokes. This can be attributed to an amazing work ethic and a strong desire to compete. “I always seemed to be paired with Cara (Heisterkamp, from Magnificat) or a Goyette (Alessandra and Isabella, from Highland
).” Many players will say playing with the best players makes them a better player. Annie was intimidated at first but has grown to appreciate playing with the best competition. “You get used to it,” she explained. “Cara and Isabella are amazing golfers. They are on a completely different level.”
Playing against the best, paired with a ton of range work, offseason practice, and playing in as many competitive events as she could have all helped Annie build a terrific resume. She broke 80 in an 18 hole event for the first time last summer at Ellsworth Meadows. “It will always have a special place for me,” she said, referring to the highly regarded layout in Hudson. She ended up tying her career best of 79 five times this fall en route to earning several honors. Annie was the Crown Conference Player of the Year and led Walsh Jesuit to the overall team championship. She shot 80 (42-38) at Sectionals to earn the second of four individual qualifying spots to the District Tournament. “Recovery is probably the best part of my game; the ability to shrug it off and play better afterward,” she said alluding to the 2021 Sectional Tournament where she shot 50 on the easier front nine at Fox Den, followed by a 38 on the more difficult back nine. “Some of my best rounds have been after bad starts.”
Walsh Jesuit missed advancing to Districts as a team by a mere two shots last season, something that Annie hopes to change in 2023. “One of my goals is to go to Districts as a team,” she said, embracing the leadership role that she had to take up her sophomore year. This is where she believes that she has grown the most. Walsh Jesuit needed someone to step up as a leader, someone who had the talent, the ability to make teammates better, and to build unity. Nobody expected that role to be filled by someone who barely even spoke early on in high school. “I was very introverted my freshman year,” she openly admitted. “My friends became my friends because they talked to me first.”
Walsh Jesuit had been one of the blue blood programs in Northeast Ohio for years but were starting to see a decline. The Warriors struggled at Sectionals Annie’s freshman year and then lost their top two players to graduation. It was up to her and Annie Cors, whose brother left a very strong legacy with Walsh Jesuit’s boys team. “When I was a sophomore I wanted to make the freshmen feel welcome,” Annie (S.) explained. After a trip to get ice cream after tryouts, a new team leader was born, much more outgoing and much more driven. “I want them to know and understand that this is fun,” she stated. When chemistry develops and role models emerge, success is almost guaranteed.
“One of my favorite feelings on the course is when I watch my teammates do something amazing,” Annie proudly admitted. Of course, “hitting a great shot when a lot of people are watching” also brings her a good amount of joy. As the team continues to build, Annie is trying to start new traditions and continue old ones. Team dinners, offering rides to the driving range, and bringing snacks to events appear to be building that chemistry.
While Walsh Jesuit has not made it to Districts since 2019, they finished one spot away the last two years and are primed to have a very strong team in 2023. The Warriors will return nearly their entire team this fall. Kate Figler, also an important member of the track team, will be the only loss to graduation. Cors will return after another year of huge improvement, shooting 86 at Sectionals, and just missing out as a qualifying individual. “When she’s not golfing, she’s always dancing,” Annie S. said about her talented junior co-captain. Two current freshmen will be instrumental in Walsh Jesuit’s success this year. Annie described Colleen Stadler as an “amazing golfer” who “has a lot of leadership potential.” Stadler burst onto the scene in 2022, having one of the most impressive years of any freshman in the area. She is joined by Gianna Rodenhauser, who also got a good deal of praise from Annie. “Gianna already has a personal best of 88. I was still shooting in the 100s as a freshman.”
Current sophomore Shaunee Miller and freshman Ava Roman bring the energy for the Warriors. “You can hear their voices a couple holes away,” quipped Annie, mentioning how much fun they are to have on the team. Sophomores Elise Miklos, who has won national dance competitions, and Isabel Martin, an extremely talented musician will also look to help the team compete.
Bill Reilly, the veteran coach of both the boys and girls teams at Walsh Jesuit, should have a shot to get the Warriors back to the level where his team was dominant in the mid 2010s. He knows for a fact that he will have the talent and the leadership to make that happen. Coach Reilly knows that Annie will be vital to the success of the team in 2023, “She is a driven leader with a strong work ethic, purposeful daily approach to all endeavors, and a great teammate to all.”
While her journey is still ongoing, Annie shared some words for younger players. “Get started and enjoy the game. It’s something you can take with you the rest of your life.” For their parents, using her dad, Jim Stencel, as an example, “Support your kids through the journey. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I’ve met so many people I would have never had the chance to meet, all because of golf.”
Annie plans to study physical or occupational therapy while playing golf in college. She hopes to make a decision on which school she will attend before the start of the 2023 golf season. “Annie will be a great addition to whichever collegiate program she chooses,” Reilly proudly stated. When she is not playing golf, Annie is busy maintaining a GPA above 4.0, working as the lighting director in school plays, participating in Academic Challenge, and baking cookies, brownies, and other delicious treats.
Walsh Jesuit Girls Golf, hosting their tournament at the Country Club of Hudson