WINONA LAKE – Abigail Fishel likes to surprise people.

The Lakeland Christian senior is the lone golfer for the Lady Cougars. Her status as an individual has caused opponents to overlook her, but she raises eyebrows with her medalist-caliber play.  

“People are a little bit surprised  (with me) coming from a smaller school, that a girl was able to medal in a match,” Fishel said.

Fishel medaled four times this season and shot an 18-hole round of 88 at last week’s Warsaw Sectional to advance to Saturday’s East Noble Regional.

She’s coached by her father, Tony Fishel, who enjoys seeing the competition caught off-guard by his daughter’s stellar performances.

He said it occurred more often during her breakout junior season.

As an individual, she plays for Lakeland Christian but doesn’t wear an LCA uniform, so some people didn’t even recognize the girl from the small private school.

However, Coach Fishel said the competition has been very accommodating.

“The teams, the coaches and the fans have all been really nice, and it kind of makes a nice atmosphere,” he said.  

Fishel may not have been known to some, but was very recognizable to others. After all, she’s been golfing since she was a toddler.

Coach Fishel, an avid golfer, brought her with him to Raccoon Run Golf Course to spend time together.

He bought her a little golf bag with a baby pitching wedge and baby putter. He’d pack a diaper bag, and every Friday morning little Abigail would putt around as she watched her father play the course.

“I just want to recommend it to all parents, really,” Coach Fishel said. “If you have young children, especially (as) fathers, it’s a great way to spend time with your kids, male or female.”

He never pushed his daughter to play the game, but she developed an affinity for it and began to play competitively in middle school.

She has never been on a team, and never thought of going to a school other than Lakeland Christian.

“It’s like a family atmosphere there,” Fishel said. “We’re a small school, and you get to make a lot of friends there.”

She said she fell in love with golf in high school, in part because of the wisdom the game imparts.

 “You have your good holes and you have your bad holes,” Fishel said. “You have your easy shots and you have your bad shots, but it’s basically about how you overcome all of those things.”

Fishel’s had a teammate just once, when she played with Lakeland Christian’s Brianna Smith as a junior.

“It was nice having her there,” Fishel said. “It helped push me a little bit.”

Not that Fishel needs pushed. Coach Fishel said he never has to prod her to practice, and they’re often working on her game.

Golf has kept father and daughter close in Fishel’s teenage years, and also has seen her excel. She shot a 90 at last year’s sectional to make it to the regional, at which she posted a 93.

She’ll be looking to beat that score at this year’s regional.

Fishel will compete alongside local teams Manchester and Wawasee, and Warsaw’s Grayson Kilburn Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at Noble Hawk Golf Links in Kendallville.

She’s poised, but isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I’m confident in my game, but it’s also a sport where it can always be a surprise to you,” she said. “I would very much like to get out, though.”