Call it that 'Grace' factor.
St. Joseph's Academy's golf team won its second state championship in a row this fall with major contributions from a senior and a sophomore named Grace.
At the Class 2 championship in Sedalia, Mo., earlier this month, St. Joseph's scored 10 strokes better than runner-up Notre Dame de Sion High School of Kansas City. Sophomore Grace Aromando finished seventh in the state after scoring a 76 the first day and 73 the next. Senior Grace Renfer was eighth with scores of 77 and 74. Their teammates, Nicole Rallo, Drew Nienhaus and Lauren Gallagher finished a more-than-respectable 17th, 28th and 29th respectively in a field of nearly 100 golfers.
Staying loose, focusing on what's important and having fun are keys to the success, the two Graces said. They cited car rides together to golf courses, as players sang and goofed off along the way. Simple things brought a lot of laughs all year.
For Renfer, team prayer was a highlight. "As a senior, I wanted to bring prayer into it. It's a part of my golf rounds, acceptance and feeling calm. Praying as a team helped all of us feel connected and calm afterward," she said.
God is a big part of Renfer's game. "Golf is a gift that God gave us to enjoy and for me to play my heart out and use my gifts and talents to help people," the parishioner of Holy Infant in Ballwin (and recent transplant to Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie) explained.
Aromando, a member of a Lutheran church, said her faith helps her to understand that if she makes a mistake, "It's OK, it's not the biggest thing in the world, there's a lot of other problems out there and golf isn't one of them. People have much bigger issues and they're not obsessing over it as I am over this."
To be among the elite golfers she competes against, Aromando tries to "push everything aside. Basically I try not to think or think about it as little as possible, so I don't overthink. I'll walk down the fairway and start singing a song in my head, think of anything besides golf" — even a test she has coming up in a class.
Renfer seeks to have a short memory about her play, especially if she has a bad hole. "I go through a very short process of accepting what happened and knowing that I can't change it," she said. "I just keep plugging away at the next hole. ... For me, it's kind of like driving. If you look too far behind you, you'll lose sight of what's in front of you. If you look too far ahead, you'll lose sight of what's right in front of you. Just staying in the present has helped me."
If Renfer tries to maintain focus in between shots, she gets mentally worn out. "The important thing for me is to stay loose and play relaxed," she said. "If I'm tense, I won't play well."
Aromando said she played alright the first day of the state tournament, when the team trailed Notre Dame de Sion by two strokes, but she wanted to improve her drives. The second day she started off poorly but came back. "I was very proud of that because of how hard I worked to be back where I needed to be," she said.
Renfer left the 18th green the first day disappointed and headed to the driving range and then to the putting green to practice. "I just got really fired up because I knew I wanted to play better than I did the first day. It was just a matter of executing," she said.
Renfer enjoyed seeing the progression of St. Joseph's — finishing out of state competition her freshman year, as a runner-up her sophomore year and as champions her next two years.
Highlights this season included a pair of out-of-town tournaments, including setting scoring records at one of the events.
The team "gave me a sense of purpose throughout high school," Renfer said. "I found myself, who I am, on the golf course with my teammates. I'm definitely sad to leave, but I'm really excited to go because golf isn't over for me, I'm going on to play in college (at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and hopefully find the same kind of family I found at St. Joe."
To compete and win for St. Joseph's Academy means a lot to her. "I'm happy to give something back to St. Joe," Renfer said.
Visitation Academy's Ashton Sinak finished fourth in the Class 1 Missouri State High School Activities Association golf championship.
The senior shot a score of 80 on the first day. The second day of competition was canceled because of inclement weather.
Sinak tied for seventh last year.
In the state tennis tournament, Incarnate Word Academy's Maria Brandt and Elizabeth Goldstein finished second in Class 1 doubles, losing to Lily Walther and Ainsley Heidbreder of John Burroughs High School. Brandt and Goldstein defeated another Burroughs pair, Maddy Duncan and Lexi Young 7-5, 6-3 to reach the finals.