Spotlight on Mati Zines, United High School

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The date was October 14th, 2022. The place was the first tee box at Ohio State University’s Gray Course. A junior from a small high school in eastern Ohio stood on the tee ready to represent her school and her community. The pressure was nothing new for Mati Zines. She stuck to her routine, took the club back, swung, and followed through. She began her journey to shooting 81-80 at the State Tournament and finishing tied for 11th place overall out of 71 competitors on the biggest stage in Ohio Division II Girls Golf.

United High School is not big, encompassing a total of about 530 students. Many schools of similar size struggle fielding teams in smaller sports, such as golf. When Mati started at United her freshman year, the school did not have a girls golf team and she was still fairly new to the sport. Mati had to join the boys golf team and figure out high school golf while being thrown into the deep end. Fast forward to 2023, Mati will be entering her senior year having established herself as one of the top players in the state and having helped build a fully functioning girls golf program at United High School. It hasn’t been a long journey, but the rewards have been plentiful and impactful.

“I only got into golf in junior high,” Mati explained. “I started playing golf a lot later than most girls my age.” It wasn’t until the end of her freshman year that Mati realized she had a bright future in the game. “It was Columbiana’s coach, Bob Hall, who was the one to mention it to my parents,” she said. With Coach Hall’s recommendation, Mati started working even harder on her golf game and began competing in tournaments outside of the high school season. She gained skill, experience, and confidence by competing in Youngstown’s Greatest Golfer league and the Northern Ohio PGA Tour.

Mati went from being the number five player on the boys team to the number one player on the newly formed United girls golf team in 2021. “I was super happy to finally have a team my sophomore year,” Mati said. They only played a handful of matches that year but it was the first time in the history of the school that they had enough players to field a girls team. Mati also had a really successful sophomore season as she reached the District Tournament after firing an 87 at the Pine Lakes sectional.

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Success as a sophomore led to a huge confidence boost for Mati. She knew that she had the ability to compete at the highest level and now she just had to demonstrate it as she entered her junior year and remained as the leader of United’s squad. The team played a full schedule in 2022 compared to only a few matches the previous year. Although they competed independently, they were able to play in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, which featured local opponents Columbiana, East Palestine, and Southern Local. Mati easily won the tournament shooting an 84, twelve shots above the nearest competitor, and the United Golden Eagles finished in second place behind Columbiana. She had momentum going for her as the Sectional Tournament approached.

At Sectionals, United came up short as a team from advancing but it was a great day for Mati Zines. Her round of 80 was good enough to earn medalist honors and easily propel her to the District Tournament at Sable Creek. The round at Districts had a little bit of everything. “It was a roller coaster of emotions to say the least,” Mati recalled. “I started off well the first 8 holes, but that all changed on the 9th hole.” A triple bogey to finish off the opening nine could have ruined the day, and would have for many players. Mati was able to get her emotions back in check and made par on the 10th hole. She then faced a problem that would not have even been an issue before 2022 and had to make a very difficult decision.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association made live scoring mandatory at any OHSAA tournament starting in 2022. Players now had access to leaderboards whenever they wanted to check. That new wrinkle left a lot of players with another decision that could affect their mental game. Should they check the leaderboard to see where they stand? “My coach doesn’t like it when I check the scoreboard,” Mati said. “But curiosity always kills me.” She felt that it would be better for her to know exactly where she stood. It proved to be the right choice in that circumstance. “I knew that I was in the top three when I got to the 18th hole,” Mati said, giving her the assurance she needed. “I was nervous because I was afraid I might get excited and have a another hole.” She didn’t. Mati finished the back nine at Sable Creek with an even par 36, giving her a total of 77 and putting her in a tie for first place, which earned her a spot at the State Tournament in Columbus. She had to still break a tie with Abbie Retherford from Ravenna, who also shot a 77, but by that time it didn’t matter. “When I heard there was a tie, I didn’t really mind,” she explained. “I was just happy I got to State. That might have helped me play loose.” She birdied the 11th hole to win the playoff. “Plus, it was fun to play with Abbie for those two holes.” Sable Creek did not play easy during the District Tournament, which made Mati’s (and Abbie’s) round that much more impressive. There were only four scores in the 70s and nine scores in the 80s from a field of 69 golfers.

Most players and coaches will say that the District Tournament offers the most difficult test of the high school season. Getting to the State tournament probably brings out more pressure than even playing in the State Tournament. Columbus was a great experience for Mati Zines as she played consistent golf on her way to the 81-80-162 for a tie in 11th place. The memories that come from OSU’s Gray Course are even better. Mati smiled as she explained her favorite: “My swing coach, Joe Allen, promised me if I made it to State he would caddy for me during my practice round. Well, he didn’t account for the fact that it was going to be windy and cold during the whole weekend. So he had to drive all the way down to Columbus to caddy for me in the wind and cold. But even if it was cold and windy, and I didn’t play as well as I would’ve liked, I still had a good time.”

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One of the best things that younger players can learn from Mati is to set high, yet attainable goals, and more importantly, to keep pushing yourself toward even higher goals. After achieving her first goal of making the team at United, she decided that making Districts as a sophomore would be the next step. She was able to achieve that and the new goal was to get to Columbus her junior year. After getting to the top of the mountain, it begs the question: What’s next? And the answer, of course, “Now that I made it to State, I have newer and higher goals for myself.”

Mati plans to play golf at the next level. She is enjoying the college recruiting process and the search for the perfect fit. She made sure to emphasize that academics will always be the priority but she definitely plans to play golf when she finds the right place. In terms of golf, she feels most comfortable with her irons, especially from 120 yards in. She has a solid short game but also knows that any golfer can improve that aspect of their game. When asked about her favorite feeling on a golf course, Mati said that there are two. “The first is when I get a birdie, especially on a par 3. I believe getting a birdie on a par 3 is the hardest birdie to get. You can’t get bailed out with a long drive, you have to be accurate with your irons, and make the putt.” Her second favorite feeling really brings out one of the great aspects of girls golf in this area: meeting new people and making new friends. “My second favorite feeling is playing with girls like me and being able to have fun while playing. It definitely helps me do better. Each player golfs differently. Some have to be completely focused on their shot, however, I wear myself down focusing all the time. It’s nice to talk to new people and connecting with them while also giving your all to your game.”

Mati has made good friends through the game of golf and tries to stay in touch as much as she can. “Samantha Calderone (Warren JFK) is someone I met two years ago through Greatest Golfer, and we found out that we are more like each other than we first realized.” Another is Shaylee Muckleroy from West Branch. “We were on an AAU basketball team before Covid, but didn’t get to know each other very well because of the pandemic. When we golfed together, we realized that we had already met. I got to play with her during a match and Sectionals, which was awesome.” Mati really enjoys playing with players who have similar interests or a similar style of play to her.

One unique aspect of Mati’s golf journey is that she gets to take it with someone who is really close to her. Stacey Zines, Mati’s mother, is the girls golf coach at United. “It’s nothing new,” Mati explained. “I’ve had both parents be my coach my whole life.” She played basketball, soccer, and softball when she was growing up. And, as is the case in many similar circumstances, Mati’s parents may be just a bit tougher on her than the other players. “They have high expectations for me because they want what’s best. In golf, my mom is supportive of me and loves coaching my team. She kept repeating how easy our team was to coach, so I’m glad we weren’t too much trouble for her.”

Stacey Zines is very proud to be able to coach her daughter. “Being a teacher in the school district where she attends, I have had the opportunity to coach Matilyn in many different sports and activities (Academic Challenge),” she explained. “Mati works hard, has a great attitude, and understands the difference between me as a mom and me as a coach. Her dad has also been her coach throughout youth and now high school softball so the whole family has had a lot of experience with different roles we play.” She loves being able to have a front row seat to everything Mati accomplishes. Coach Zines also explained how golf has impacted Mati’s life. “She is very even tempered on and off the course. With that being said, she is a totally different person on the course than off. She likes to meet and talk to new people she meets while playing golf. She is more outgoing on the course than in other areas.” One area that Mati continues to excel at is the classroom, which is where her mother/coach is most proud of her. “In school she definitely maintains her focus. Academics are very important to her so she takes school very seriously.”

Mati offers three pieces of advice for younger or newer players:

  1. The main thing is to have fun when you play. If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll never learn to love the sport.
  2. Focus on your short game!
  3. “Drive for show, putt for dough”. I think this is a great quote because it tells you how important short game is. All the best golfers are focused on short game, and I know it can be boring for new players but it is something that will make you leagues better in the future.
Mati Zines will be a player to watch in the Fall of 2023. Look for the girls on the United Golden Eagles golf team to look up to their unquestioned leader and make an impact in Division II girls golf.
 
 
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