Pressure has been known to burst more than its share of pipes through the years.
The same circumstances have also shown the capability to create diamonds — and everyone knows the precious gem is a girl’s best friend.
While most shy away from moments filled with tension, St. James golfer Smith Knaffle tends to embrace them.
“Typically, I’m very concentrated,” she said. “It takes a lot for me to become distracted or feel pressure. I’m normally able to block everything out and go play my game.”
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Already renowned for her prowess on the links, the sophomore standout did nothing to diminish her reputation this past season.
The weight of high expectations did nothing to slow Knaffle during the 2016 golf campaign, shooting 9-hole average of 37, with an 18-hole mean of 70.
Still, she saved her best performance for last at the Class 4A girls golf state tournament, making child’s play of The Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina University. During the two-day event, she shot a total of 138, earning medalist honors in addition to leading St. James to a second consecutive state championship.
While it isn’t a diamond, Knaffle is again the recipient of the next best thing, earning recognition as this year’s Toast of the Coast girls golf Player of the Year. It is her fourth consecutive year she has won the award.
“It’s an honor to see your hard work pay off,” she said. “When I go out there, I want to play my game and go out and have fun.”
Unlike previous seasons, the St. James girls golf squad was considered young by most accounts, void of a senior presence on the roster. Though their youth was a certainty, the Sharks’ savvy on a golf course was unquestioned, breezing past most competition with relative ease.
Knaffle was at the center of that, her stability also giving some of the squad’s younger members confidence. According to the sophomore phenom, the importance of such cannot be understated, in part because she was once the young pup seeking a place among veteran players.
“Honestly, we were confident in our younger girls and what they could do,” Knaffle said. “All of us climb the same ladder on the team. It felt good to see them succeed and help us achieve our team goal, which was a state championship.”
Though for state competition it is the offseason, the work goes on for Knaffle as a host of tournaments and training sessions remain on the docket. Visits to a host of schools are also on her priority list, with a commitment coming potentially in the next few months.
“At a tournament in Augusta (Ga.), there were between six and eight coaches looking at me in a few days, some of which were from ACC and SEC schools,” Knaffle said. “Over the years, I’ve created some great contacts and hopefully it will help me make a decision. There isn’t one yet, though, that maybe coming in a few months or end of the year.”
Certainly, her work on the links speaks for itself. But academics continues to take top priority for Knaffle, putting the title “student-athlete” on a pedestal.
“It comes first … obviously you want your grades to be high,” she said. “If you can’t get into school athletically, there are plenty scholarships out there. It’s always in the back of my mind, that I don’t want my only channel to a college education to be because of athletics.”
This is the sixth installment in a nine-day series honoring the top athletes from the fall high school sports season. Thursday: xxxxxx.
TOAST OF THE COAST — GIRLS GOLF
Player of the Year
School: St. James
Notable: Led St. James to a second consecutive state title, shooting a two-day total of 138. The performance earned her medalist honors. For the fourth straight year was named to all-state team. Had a 9-hole season average of 37, with an 18-hole average of 70.
School: St. James
Class: Seventh grade
Notable: In her debut at the state 4A tournament, she shot a two-day total of 158 — good enough for her to earn all-state recognition. More importantly, her contribution was key in the Sharks claiming the Class 4A title. She had an 18-hole average of 84 this past season.
Notable: Claimed medalist honors at the Region VI-5A championship, shooting a two-day total of 84 — two strokes ahead of Carolina Forest’s Sami Spencer. Had a team-low result of 210 at the state 5A tournament.
Mary Kate Richardson
Notable: The Region VI-3A Player of the Year, she finished with an 18-hole average just below 84. She earned medalist honors at seven events, and finished top 10 at the Lower State 3A tourney. Claimed 14th at the state 3A championship.
School: Carolina Forest
Notable: An All-Region VI-5A performer, the Carolina Forest standout was key in leading the Panthers to a league title this past season. Shot a team-best total of 193 over two days at the state 5A tournament, accompanied by an 85 at the Lower State 5A championship.
School: St. James
Notable: Team captain of a Sharks girls golf team that went on to claim the Class 4A state title. Shot a 9-hole average of 40, with an 18-hole average of 80. Earned first career hole-in-one on Oct. 7, 2016.
Coach of the Year
School: St. James
Notable: Led the Sharks girls golf squad to its second consecutive state title in dominant fashion this past season. Facing quite the difficult schedule, St. James didn’t finish worse than fourth in any event for which it participated.