One year ago, if you wanted to buy Lakota's Makayla Dull a congratulatory gift for her performance at the state golf meet, sunglasses might' have been a good choice. After placing 10th as a freshman in Columbus, Dull had a bright future a head of her.
She had already made a name for herself in the summer at several junior tournaments, then made the transition to the high school level with ease.
She followed up a regular season playing on the Lakota's boys team with a run to the Division II state girls tournament.
"I was kind of like the underdog," she said. "I was a freshman; no one really expects much from a freshman. The first day I didn't do so well. But then, I just relaxed the next day and just tried to play the best I can. I came through and came in 10th."
Friday, Dull will be back in Columbus competing at the Division II state championships. However, the road back wasn't a smooth one. Not too long after her state performance, a big speed bump came up in the middle of the road.
On Dec. 3, Dull was playing on Lakota's JV basketball team in a game at Carey. A seemingly routine basketball move turned disastrous.
"My coach put me as point guard. I went for a jump stop on the left side and when I landed, I heard a pop and I just fell on the ground," she said.
Dull said she was scared, but hoped the injury wasn't as bad as it seemed. However, it was discovered that she completely tore the ACL in her left knee as well as her medial meniscus and lateral meniscus.
Dr. Steven Copeland at Mercy Tiffin Hospital performed surgery on Jan. 6, starting Dull on a long, and often times painful, road back.
"It was a long process. Before surgery I had to get my range of motion back, which was tough. I had to do certain exercises that would really hurt," she said. "Afterwards ... (my parents) had to baby my leg. I was laying in bed and they had to hold it, and one movement and it would hurt."
Helping her through her recovery was tough on her family as well. Her father Troy said he had to help her through the pain on multiple levels.
"When it first happened, we were planning a week later to going to the University of Florida for golf camp. She was really down about that. Two days later she was going to move up to varsity (basketball team). Not only was it a physical pain, but then you had the emotional pain too," Troy said.
"There were times, we had to hold her leg perfectly still, or she'd scream. She's come a long ways. The physical therapy she went through, they had her bear crawling up the hospital hill there in Fremont. They had her doing crab walks, plyometrics and jumping. She did everything she could to get back."
Dull said golf was a driving force to get through her recovery. Her doctors gave her a timetable, and she was determined to meet it.
"My physical therapist told me if I worked really hard I'd be back around the end of June," she said. "So that was kind of like my motivation. ... I just wanted to get back to normal and do the same things I could before.
"I think I was pretty positive throughout the whole thing. I was never really doubtful. I would just listen to everything my physical therapist would tell me."
In the months following her surgery, Dull found a way, despite not being able to swing a club, to still work on her game.
"I was able to putt. So I guess I was able to work on my short game, which is the most important part of the game anyway," she said.
Four months after her surgery, she was able to begin chipping. She started about 20 yards from the hole, and gradually worked out.
On June 22, she finally was cleared to get back on the course. The very next day she competed in a U.S. Junior Girls event in Uniontown. It was her first 18 holes of golf since her injury and she got tired, not being used to walking a full round. She still managed to post an 84.
On June 25, Dull traveled to Brighton, Mich. to compete in an event on the Adams Golf Junior Tour. She shot an 86, good enough to win the event by six strokes.
She qualified for the Tour Championship in July at Michigan State University. She fired a 74 on the first day at the East Course at Forest Akers to take the lead, but shot an 80 on the tougher West Course, to finish second.
Dull said it took her some time to shake the rust off her swing. When it began time to start her sophomore season at Lakota, her swing was in good shape, and her knee was healthy, except for one minor issue.
"My knee's actually stronger than it was before," he said. "The only problem I really have with my left knee and the brace, is the tan-line. That's all I have problems with."
Once the season teed off, it didn't seem as if she had any problems. She finished third out of 75 boys at the early season Lakota Invitational. She ended the regular season with a fourth-place finish at the Midland Athletic League Championship, good enough for a first team All-league selection.
She breezed through her district meet, then shot an 81 last week at districts, qualifying for her second-straight state tournament.
There's a new face in Dull's corner this time around. Chad Garberich took the coaching job at Lakota in the offseason.
Garberich said he wasn't aware of Dull when he first talked about the job.
"When I'd originally talked about the job, I had no idea about her," he said. "I had experience coaching at St. Francis DeSales in Columbus. I wanted the challenge so I took this job, and I went up there and here she is. I actually had no idea about it when I went in for my first interview."
Dull said Garberich was a welcome addition. His coaching is usually right in line with her swing coach, Claire Batista.
"He's really good with pointing out things," Dull said. "I'll go to my swing coach, and she'll say things, and then he'll say the same stuff. They're on the same page. He knows everything with my swing and I trust him when he tells me stuff like I'm coming back too flat. I trust him with my swing."
"It's all the same stuff. The swings not very complicated when it comes to knowing what too look for," Garberich said. "She's not doing a whole heck of a lot wrong. You can hone in on a couple things she does wrong. More of what I try to do with Makayla is the mental aspect of the game. Which club to hit here, punching out instead of trying to hit the hero shot. Not letting a one-shot mistake turn into a two or three-shot mistake."
Club selection is one aspect of Dull's game that calls for some attention as she gets set to tee off in Columbus. After playing all year on the boys team and hitting from the boys tees, she has to adjust to make the adjustment to hitting from the girls tees, which means hitting from closer in.
"Right now what she's had to adjust to is she's hitting from the boys tees, so she flies in probably 150, 140. Now she's flying in 100, 90 or 80," her father said. "So that's what we've been working on the last week or so, her wedge game, tightening that up a little bit."
Garberich says Troy is a great influence in his daughter's game. Which is in contrast what he usually sees from parents.
"He does such a good job with her. He knows when to push her and knows when to pull back," Garberich said. "As a coach, I usually don't like when a parent gets involved. They usually just end up getting in the way. It's the total opposite with him. He does a real good job with her."
Dull tees off 9:40 a.m. Friday on the No. 10 at the Ohio State University Gray Course. The same course she competed on last year. She feels the added experience will only help her climb up the leaderboard her second time around.
"Last year, the practice round helped, but I didn't know the course as much as the seniors or juniors did. This year I know the course pretty well," she said. "If I have a really good day and I'm playing well and everything's going right for me, I believe I can win it. I'll be really happy with first team (top 5) but I believe I can win it too.
"I'll still be a little nervous, but I don't think I'll be as nervous as last year. Last year I was the underdog and I didn't know as much as I do now."
Because of Dull's hard work and determination, what was perhaps the biggest obstacle of her young career, became nothing more than a speed bump on the return road to Columbus. It's unclear what the weather forecast will be on the Gray Course, but Dull should make sure to pack her sunglasses. Her future, and her present, are as bright as ever.