By BROOKLYN BROWN
One Feather Reporter
CHEROKEE, N.C.- The Cherokee High School (CHS) Lady Braves Golf Team won the Smoky Mountain Conference (SMC) Championship on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 12 at their home course, Sequoyah National Golf Club, for the first time in school history. Paytyn Barker, a junior at CHS, was named the SMC Player of the Year. CHS Head Coach Jason McMillan was named SMC Coach of the Year. The Lady Braves also went undefeated in conference matches for the 2023-24 season.
The team includes Danica Hill, senior; Kiri Hill, junior; Julia Smart, junior; Eve Stamper, senior; Paytyn Barker, junior; Aliah Locust, senior; Marla Panther, senior; and Alitama Perkins, senior. Five golfers from the squad played nine holes, par 36, in the SMC Conference Championship. Barker shot a 48, Stamper shot a 50, Danica Hill shot a 54, Locust shot a 55, and Perkins shot a 56.
Coach McMillan is more than pleased with his team’s performance. “To win for the first time in school history is an amazing feeling. I’m very proud of the girls for their time and effort they put into the game and to this program,” he said. “They are very deserving of this accomplishment, and we wouldn’t be able to make this happen without the coaches and players before us who started the program and kept it going throughout the years.”
Barker agrees that the foundation has been laid for years leading up to their stellar season. “Sharon Bradley and all the coaches and players before us laid the groundwork to begin a great tradition of Ladies Golf here at Cherokee High School, and we strive to continue this through dedication and hard work,” she said. “I feel that it is the hard-work, determination, and never-quit attitudes from the team and coaches that has allowed us to be successful. We have worked hard since the beginning of the season. We have also had great support from Cherokee High School teachers and administration along with the community and parents.”
Barker is celebrating a huge accomplishment being named SMC Player of the Year for the first time in school history. “It feels unreal! I was so honored to be named Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year. It feels amazing to be able to represent my community, the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), and our school as the first ever SMC Player of the year. I worked hard to reach this goal. I would like to thank my teammates and coaches for always working with me and pushing me to be the best. I would like to especially thank Jason McMillan, Carr Crowe, and my family for all the extra work and time spent to make me and my teammates the best. I would like to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for giving me the ability and belief to compete at a high level and reach my goals.”
Barker is not finished reaching her goals, and neither is her team. “I want to play a great game at Regionals, along with my other teammates. I feel that we have the talent and ability to qualify for the State Championship as a team and as individuals. I look forward to continuing to work with my coaches and teammates to finish out this year in memorable fashion. Thank you, God Bless, and Go Braves!”
Standout golfer Eve Stamper is also excited for the road ahead. “I feel great. I’m proud of my girls and my team. It’s been long-awaited for Lady Braves golf to get a little recognition. I am very grateful to be a Brave! Making it to state would have to be my next goal for this golf season. It’d be a huge accomplishment in my book and a big highlight to my senior year.”
McMillan credits his seniors with leading the team to victory. “Our seniors have taken on leadership roles they are probably not aware of. We have three seniors who have put all four years of high school into this program, and they have helped me become the coach that I am.”
McMillan also believes the team has been made better by their home course. “Our home course at Sequoyah National is amazing and it is also the most challenging course you will face on this side of North Carolina. The staff at Sequoyah has always done a great job of taking care of us and supported us with whatever we need. We are very appreciative of them.”
McMillan has pushed his team to new limits this year, resulting in an historic conference championship win. “As a coach, I’ve tried to put our girls in uncomfortable situations where they have had to figure it out as they go. This year instead of 10 matches, we bumped it up to 15 matches. We traveled to Choctaw Mississippi to play the Battle of the Nations golf match, and we also scheduled half of our matches against top notch teams and golfers in the area. I believe they are realizing they can do good if they stick through the toughness of the sport,” he said.
“Also, huge thank you to our school for being there for us, as well as Tysha Sampson, who is a big part of our team. She knows how to talk to the girls when I don’t know how. She’s always there with us during our matches.”
The golf team is preparing for some big matches ahead. “Our next goal is to reach the State level. It has always been our goal to get there,” McMillan said. “We have regionals coming up on October 23 at Meadowbrook Golf Club and the top three teams move on to State. I believe we are capable of being one of those three teams this year.”