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Sapp, Cheney power South girls to fourth-place finish in state tourney
Bella Sapp and Abbie Cheney
Abbie Cheney (left) and Bella Sapp (Photo: Donald Heath)

GUYTON — Bella Sapp and Abbie Cheney started their athletic careers swinging softball bats. But at South Effingham, they made their mark swinging golf clubs.

The former youth softball teammates changed course and became the Mustangs formidable one-two punch on the links, closing out a stellar four-year run May 17-18 by leading a fourth-place team finish at the Class AAAAAA girls state championships at Sunset Hills Country Club in Carrollton.

Sapp finished tied for ninth individually with a two-day total of 87-81 168; Cheney placed 14th among the 54 finishers with an 85-85 170. 

“I know they’re going to do great things in life,” SEHS golf coach Mitchell Curry said. “I’m looking forward to following Abbie at Shorter University and I’m looking forward to Bella running a golf course so she can get me on and I can play for free.”

Cheney, who is SEHS senior grade-point-average award winner with a 3.947 GPA, signed to play at Shorter in November and plans to major in psychology. Sapp has aspirations to attend Professional Golfers Career College in Bluffton, S.C., to learn the business aspect of the sport.

Both girls are dual-enrolled — Cheney at Georgia Southern University and Sapp at Savannah State University — but during a busy time with so much ahead, they didn’t mind looking back.

Sapp wanted to forge her own path in sports. Naomi, her sister, starred in softball and earned a scholarship to Wingate. Bella followed for a while, but in sixth grade she strayed down a different road.

Cheney also played softball. And soccer. Then, fell in love with golf. By eighth grade, her parents asked her to choose one.

Four years later, Sapp and Cheney transformed girls golf at South Effingham.

“We wanted to continue to build a winning program and I think we did that,” said Sapp about the goals for their senior seasons. “I think we’ve done some amazing things here.”

This spring, Sapp and Cheney finished one-two in either order at most local matches and South, as a team, won all but one match during the regular season.

The Mustangs captured the Area 1-AAAAAA championship by 33 shots over second-place Glynn Academy at the Georgia Southern University Golf Course.

Sapp and Cheney led the Mustangs to a third-place team finish at state (in Class AAAAA) as freshmen; then fourth place the next year.

Last season, the state championship was cancelled because of COVID-19.

The girls had high goals for this season at state and feel they did their best. On the second day only three players shot lower than Sapp’s 81. And subtract two brutal holes (losing eight shots to par), Cheney would have been among the second-day leaders.

“Trying to figure out how to play each club was difficult,” said Cheney about the hilly course. “We’re used to playing on flat courses. Here you had to adjust because you weren’t going to get that roll.”

Hard greens and challenging pin placements added a couple of more degrees of difficulty.

“It seemed like I was trying to save par all day,” said Sapp, who proudly highlighted a 25-foot putt to save par after starting the hole by hitting a tree.

South finished with a team score of 537 with the help of sophomore Hannah Smith, who posted a career-best 98 on the second day. The best rounds of three girls count toward the team score.

“Hannah took a lot of pressure off us,” Sapp said.

Throughout the year, sophomore Alyssa Marburger has been another key contributor.

Sapp and Cheney will graduate in just a few days but golfing accolades should continue to follow. They earned all-state honors as sophomores and have been nominated for all-state this season. (Spring sports ended prematurely because of COVID-19 last spring.)

“They’re great kids, extremely intelligent and have been great leaders for us,” Curry said. “Without Bella and Abbie, we couldn’t have gotten (to state).”

Sapp recovered from a torn labrum to play her senior year.

“I’m super competitive so I had to learn to relax,” Sapp said. “I was grateful to play this year and play with friends.”