When students walk into the Union High School gym in the future, they will see another Titans championship banner, this one representing the girls golf team and Jade Gruher, the first state champion in program history.
Gruher earned that distinction after winning the Class 4A individual state title May 25 in Lacey and shooting a combined two-round score of 3-under 141.
The Titans junior, selected as The Columbian’s All-Region girls golfer of the year, brought the program to new heights. Gruher hopes her state championship run can inspire others to pursue greatness, much like she drew inspiration from seeing Union’s championship banners, showcasing the best of the best at the school.
“Now when people walk into the gym and they see a banner that says golf has won state, it kind of inspires people to do the best they can at Union,” Gruher said. “That’s what I think makes our school great, because you walk into that gym, you see the banners for any sport, no matter if you don’t even play it and you’re like, ‘Wow, with my sport I want to do that. I want to put something up there.’
“It just really inspires people, and I’m glad I could show that even if you don’t play golf, you think it’s boring or it’s not really a sport, that your school just won state because someone wanted to. I think just showing the freshmen (and) incoming high schoolers that they can do anything they want is amazing.”
Not only was Gruher’s season at Union inspirational, it was one for the record books.
She had a nine-hole stroke average of 35.8, during a season that included 35 birdies and two eagles, according to Union coach Gary Mills. She also shot a school-record 69 round to win the Cowlitz Invitational, which came down to a par-saving putt on the 18th hole following a chunked chip shot.
“I was just in my own world, holding my breath and once the putt dropped, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I just did it,’ and Mills was freaking out on the side,” she said.
That win in the last week of April helped her reach her best golf of the season, culminating in the state title at Hawks Prairie Golf Course.
“I was like, ‘I think this is going to be a good season for me,’” Gruher said.
With no state championship events played in either of Gruher’s first two high school seasons, there was some uncertainty about how Gruher would measure up against the rest of the state. Those questions quickly faded once the tournament started.
“She was hitting amazing drives and pulling off shots that other people weren’t even trying,” Mills said after Gruher won state. “That’s when I knew, she’s got a shot at this thing.”
Gruher has been around the Union golf programs since she was 8 years old, when her older brother, Ben, started playing for the Titans with Mills as coach. With that history, representing Union on a state-champion level has been extra special.
Following a busy summer that will include between 15 and 20 tournaments, Gruher will return for her senior season with a chance at collecting more hardware for the Union gym.
“Just trying to have fun, have the team come to state with me and then just see if I can break my own records — just trying to have fun with it,” Gruher said.
Rest of All-Region girls golf team
Jasmine Chen, Camas
Chen was a 4A GSHL first-team pick, placed third at 4A district, third at bi-district and placed fifth at the state tournament.
Jacinda Lee, Camas
Lee was the 4A GSHL player of the year, the 4A district and bi-district champion and placed fifth at the 4A state tournament.
Zoe Jouwsma, Woodland
Jouwsma as a 2A GSHL first-team all-league player, placed third at the district tournament and 19th and the state tournament.
Grace Phillips, Hockinson
Phillips was the 2A GSHL player of the year, placed fifth at the 2A district tournament and placed 15th at the state tournament.
Callie Wengler, Camas
Wengler was a 4A GSHL first-team pick, placed fourth at 4A district, 12th at bi-district and placed 27th at the state tournament.
Annika Yeh, Mountain View
Yeh was the 3A GSHL player of the year, the 3A district champion, placed third at bi-district and placed 10th at the state.