Dazzling debut: Meet The Charlotte Observer’s girls’ prep coach of the year

Todd Grear said he had two questions for anyone hoping to play on the girls’ high school golf team at Pine Lake Prep last fall.

“Can you shoot 55 or less?” he asked prospective players.

“And where should we hang the (state championship) banner?” he also asked.

That second question turned out to be important, as Pine Lake Prep captured its first girls’ golf state championship last November.

And for his efforts in guiding a rebuilt team to the 1A-2A crown, Grear is The Charlotte Observer’s prep girls’ coach of the year.

Grear was an interested parent the previous two seasons, watching his daughter Gabby play for a Pride squad that finished second in the 2022 state championship.

When the coaching position came open last summer, Grear, a former college golfer at Dayton, took the job. He had an immediate challenge.

“The previous year’s team was five seniors and Gabby,” he said.

The group of graduates included Caroline Johnson, the 2022 1A-2A individual state champion.

“I felt like I knew what we needed, and I knew there was talent moving into the program,” Grear said.

Specifically, Paisley Freda and Taylor Pike arrived as ninth-graders to the program. They joined Gabby Grear, a junior, as the heart of the Pine Lake Prep program last fall.

In most tournaments, Freda and Pike were the Pride’s top scorers. Gabby Grear normally was the No. 3 player, but she had an additional role.

“She was a leader,” her father said. “She even drove the younger girls to practice sometimes.”

After tryouts last August, Grear picked the team and said he then sat his players down.

“I gave them my expectations,” he said. “I told them that if we could shave off 10 to 15 percent of our shots, we would do well.”

In high school girls’ golf, the top three scorers’ nine-hole rounds make up the team score.

“I wanted us to average 130,” Grear said. “When we started, we were scoring 140, 142 — somewhere in that vicinity. By the middle of the season, we were down in the 130’s.”

Once the Pride lowered their scores, Grear said, everything fell into place.

“In golf, the numbers are the numbers,” he said. “It’s not hard to predict how you’ll do, unless you have a particularly bad day.”

Grear said he found two important roles last fall.

“The biggest thing is when you’re having a bad day, you have to suck it up and stay focused,” he said. “I worked with them on that.”

“And I really found a niche helping them shave one or two shots off their nine-hole scores,” he added.

In the 2022 state tournament, Pine Lake Prep faltered in the second round. Last November, the Pride trailed by one shot after the first day.

“I heard the girls say, ‘We’re not going to lose this tournament,’ ” Grear said. “That made me feel good.”

The first round was played in near-80-degree weather. The temperature plummeted more than 20 degrees on the second day, but the Pride heated up. Freda finished second overall to Christ the King’s Malerie Lague, and Pine Lake Prep won the championship by 16 shots.

Grear sees more success coming in the 2024 fall season.

“We have everybody back from last year,” he said. “We have a ninth-grader coming in who will contribute. And we have several girls who didn’t make last year’s team but have been working hard to improve.”

No doubt, those prospective players will be asked where they think Pine Lake Prep should hang a second state championship banner.