CHATHAM, NJ — Chatham High sports enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that the Cougar team with the longest current regular-season winning streak is the 2021 girls golf team.
Coach Stephen Kmiec’s team has put together a 27-match winning streak, which started in 2019 and bridged the 2020 pandemic season, and will still be alive when the 2022 season begins.
“When I started as the coach here, the program was very small,” Kmiec said. “There weren’t a lot of women playing. I think having a sense of consistency in the program and people in the community seeing the young women out on the golf courses has led to more young women playing golf before they get to high school.
“Having that established program and seeing that it’s real has helped. Other schools might have trouble finding players but we now average 15 girls a year joining our program.”
One of those players who planned to join the CHS team when she was in middle school is Claire Nowikas, a junior co-captain of the 2021 team.
The 16-year-old concluded the 2021 season on Wednesday by shooting a 7-over-par 41 over nine holes at the NJAC Tournament, where she was the runner-up to the medalist. Her round featured two birdies, and she finished with just 13 putts, getting off the green with just one putt on five of the holes.
Claire Nowikas is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.
“I knew Claire was playing golf during the pandemic and she really, really improved from where she left off her freshman year when she was good enough to earn a letter,” Kmiec said. “She came in as the co-captain and was the No. 1 golfer the whole season.”
Nowikas, who co-captained the team with junior Maddy Peckham, said the positive attitude was the key to keeping the undefeated streak alive.
“The reason we were able to go undefeated is that our chemistry is amazing,” Nowikas said. “We all get along so well. The van rides to the matches are so much fun. We just mix so well, when we go out there we’re in such a good mood that we play well. Every match there was always that thought in the back of my head – ‘this can’t be the one’ – we just haven’t lost.”
The 5-2 Nowikas benefited from eight years of gymnastics training that has translated into her strong golf game. Nowikas’ other top round was her 42 on the par-35 course at Sunset Valley. She also placed 10th individually at the Morris County Tournament.
“My gymnastics has built up all these muscles and my driving is probably the best part of my game,” Nowikas said. “I love getting into the tee box and having that vision of the ball going straight.”
Nowikas played lacrosse and trained in gymnastics all the way through eighth grade when she gave up all other sports to concentrate on golf.
“Everything stopped when I got to high school because I knew lacrosse and golf were the same season,” Nowikas said. “My mom (Rachel) kind of pushed for golf, too, because she loves it. I was pretty much born into the sport. I was swinging a golf club when I was five.”
Nowikas started to pay more attention to her mental game over the last few weeks after a bad round.
“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can,” she said. “I read online that if you have a bad shot, you can think negatively about it until you get within 10 yards of the ball. Then you have to let it go.
“The reason I was playing so bad was that I got really worked up about it. I needed that strategy to get out of it. Now I think about the present and not the past shots or misses.”
Nowikas admits that she got ahead of herself of the very last hole of the season at the Farnstead Course on Wednesday.
“I told myself if I par this hole I’ll shoot a 39,” she said. “I wound up with a double bogey. That taught me not to get ahead of myself. I want to work on my game this summer and come back ready to play the best that I can.”
Nowikas plays locally at the Madison Golf Club and over the summer at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club in Shelter Island Heights, N.Y., where she also works at the bag dropoff, cleaning clubs and carts.
Editor’s note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community. For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions. Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at email@example.com to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals. To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.