There are three area girls golf teams that will compete at the state tournament this week and none of them are taking for granted what it means to be competing for a state title.
Callisburg is the one squad that is not returning to Austin this spring but the Lady Wildcats were in position as one of the top three teams in Region II a year ago before a disqualification due to an incorrect scorecard knocked them down to fifth place. That came a year after Callisburg was fourth — one spot out of qualifying.
Howe is headed to state for the sixth time in eight seasons, last year’s coming at the expense of both Callisburg, which ultimately ended up missing by three shots, and Chapel Hill, which also dealt with a disqualification. But this year the team has rallied around the coach who has overseen all those state trips, Derek Lands, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer last summer.
Tioga was in the hunt for a title last year, earning third and was just eight strokes from being the state runner-up. The Lady Bulldogs’ top player from that team, Kari Hughes, tied for fourth place in the individual standings to close out her high school career.
All three programs are ready to put their best swings forward with those backstories surrounding their success. Both Callisburg and Howe are in the 3A state tournament on Monday at Grey Rock Golf Course while Tioga starts the Class 1A state tournament on Monday at Lions Municipal Golf Course.
Callisburg made sure to leave no doubt this time around in reaching state for the first time since 2011. The Lady Wildcats won the Region II title with a two-day total of 670 that was 32 strokes ahead of runner-up Chapel Hill.
“We expected to win. We’re confident,” said Morgan Parker, one of four seniors along with Brenna Ballard, Tori Hawkins and Emma Wells. “We would have been disappointed if we didn’t.”
Ballard was the region runner-up with a score of 155 while Lindsey Bullard was fourth with a 160. Parker shot 165 and was seventh, Wells had a 190 and was 27th and Hawkins finished with a 202 for a tie at 40th. Kathryn Taylor played as a medalist for Callisburg and shot 179, which was good for a tie at 12th.
“We knew we could do it with a lot of practice and teamwork,” Hawkins said. “It’s an honor to get to go down there.”
There could have been a hangover from the circumstances a year ago but after such a strong start the focus was on finishing off such a dominant performance.
“We were all just super careful,” Ballard said. “We wanted to make sure. We knew how it felt to have it and then taken away.”
Now, along with Howe, they will face three-time defending champion Sonora, Wall, Brock, Chapel Hill, 2016 bronze medalist Rockdale, Cameron Yoe, Keene, Ingram Moore, Comfort and Edna for the state title.
“We really wanted it. It’s all happening for us now,” Ballard said. “Hopefully it turns out good.”
Howe was seventh in its latest state appearance and was two shots from sixth and 11 from the top five. Three members from that group are back — Charlsee Carter, Peyton Groves and Anna Counts.
“Hopefully we do better than we did last year,” Groves said. “We’re excited to be going back again.”
But just months after competing their next season took on a much different feel.
Lands was diagnosed during the summer and began treatment. By the end of February, he had undergone double-digit weeks of chemotherapy, followed by five weeks of radiation and five more weeks of rest. In between the regional and state tournaments he had surgery down in Plano. Lands is planning on doing everything possible to be in Austin.
“It was hard when he missed the first tournament because it was the start of the season,” Carter said. “We didn’t want to put any more stress on him.”
Last month Howe picked up third place in Region II with a combined total of 742 and was 17 shots ahead of Sabine for the final state berth. Carter was 11th with a 171. Meradith Ross had a 179 and was tied for 12th, Groves tied for 22nd with a 188, Molly Wilson shot 208 and was tied for 47th and Counts finished with a 213 and was 54th.
“We’re going into it a lot more confident than last year because we really earned our spot this time,” Carter said.
Tioga is at state for the third straight season and Destini Maness and Brittany Barnett have been a part of all three trips. They knew it would be tough to replace Hughes but the Lady Bulldogs went and were the runner-up at the Class 1A Region III tournament.
“We definitely thought it was going to be harder,” said Demi Wilson, the lone senior and team captain. “We lost Kari and she was a senior and a really good leader. I think everybody improved a lot from district to regionals.”
Tioga didn’t have to worry about qualifying for state — its two-day total of 815 was 55 strokes ahead of third-place Iredell. But to be near the top of the standings competing against Fort Elliott, Happy, Matador Motley County, Bronte, last year’s runner-up Robert Lee, Ackerly Sands, defending champion Utopia, Knippa, Moulton, Blanket and Iredell will take a team effort.
“Last year we wanted top five and we’re striving to get in the top three again,” Wilson said. “That’s our goal.”
Peyton Moore led Tioga at the region tourney with a 192 that was good for third place and she was three strokes from being the runner-up. Wilson, who was part of the bronze-winning team last year, shot a 198 and tied for fourth, Barnett carded a 208 and placed seventh, Emily Adlof finished with a 217 and was 12th and Maness shot a 242.
“We have five this year instead of four players and I think that’s helped because if somebody had a bad day last year, the whole tournament would go badly,” Wilson said. “Now we can pick each other up if someone is off.”