Gregg sparks Hillgals’ upswing

Placer primed for playoff run with new coach, talented young players
By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
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Carol French’s transition to coaching the Placer High girls golf team was pretty straight forward. Hannah Gregg’s move to the Hillgals’ club was a little more complicated.

It took some convincing by Shawn Kelly — the head professional at The Ridge Golf Course — to prompt Gregg to play golf at Placer. The freshman had been home-schooled through eighth grade and played a limited tournament schedule with The First Tee the last two summers.

“She’s a dream to coach,” French said of Gregg. “Shawn Kelly kind of coaxed her into playing high school golf. She’s really focused and super dedicated. She practices a lot and she’s really mature beyond her years.”

Gregg has sparked Placer’s resurgence this season. The Hillgals trail only Whitney in the Pioneer Valley League standings after they improved to 5-1  with a win over El Dorado at Cold Springs on Tuesday.

Gregg’s scoring average of just over 42 for nine holes, trails only Whitney senior Samantha Stockton — whose sister Christina starred at Forest lake Christian — in the PVL.

She grew up in Cool around horses, but when Gregg turned 4, her father Scott began taking her  to Apple Mountain Golf Course on a regular basis. She eventually joined Little Linkers at DarkHorse, then began taking lessons from Kelly at The Ridge about four years ago.

Playing on a team for the first time, Gregg has thrived.

“I didn’t really expect this, it’s worked out really well,” Gregg said. “I’ve gotten a lot better and the team’s really fun. We all get along really well. It’s different because you can have your best day, but everyone on the team has to do their part.”

Gregg, who wears her lucky pearls during every match, shot an uncharacteristic 53 on Tuesday, but junior Sydney Ryan was there to pick up the slack. Ryan fired a 45 to earn medallist honors and lead the Hillgals to a four-stroke victory.

Gregg averages about 220 yards with her driver, but she said her short game has been her strength as of  late. On the tee, her 3-hybrid is her go-to club.

“It’s really fun to hit,” Gregg said.

She aspires to play in college and eventually on the LPGA Tour, where her coach played from 1986 through ’89. French, a ’79 Placer grad, was plenty familiar with the golf program before taking over. She handled much of the training for the Hillgals for the last decade under former coach Doug Stryker, who retired last spring. A longtime teaching professional and former LPGA player, French was happy to step in as coach of a team that had struggled for several seasons.

“When Doug retired it seemed logical for me to take over. I just kind of fit the bill,” French said. “I think it’s been super-positive. Record-wise, we’re doing better than any time I can remember.”

Ryan is Placer’s only other year-round player, but French said she made point to instill a competitive spirit in the team from the start of the season. She had tryouts, keeping players she felt would take the game seriously and commit to improving.

“It’s not always been the strongest sport and I wanted to make it more of a competitive atmosphere,” French said. “We took girls (onto the team) that had experience and were dedicated to improving.“

The Placer team is young and full of promise. Junior Sky Conners and freshman Madi Holm are improving. Devon McFarland and Elia Rivas are also making progress for the Hillgals, who are poised to make their first playoff appearance since joining the PVL in 2006.

“I think there’s an unspoken charge through the team,” French said. “They’re excited — they might get to the postseason.”