Competing in the Class 4A golf state championship has become something of a rite of passage for the girls of Lexington High’s golf squad.
Yet as the Wildcats roll into to the first round of this year’s tournament, Monday at Wescott Plantation in Summerville, they hardly feel the state title is a given.
Of course, as two-time defending champions, the Wildcats may have a mental edge on the competition, a sense of calm and preparedness that the other contenders cannot match.
Seniors Lauren Stephenson and Ann Elizabeth Gore, junior Hailey Cleary and freshman Gracyn Burgess round out a starting foursome that has no less than three years of state tournament experience.
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“You can’t replace the experience,” coach Brandon Smith said. “That’s invaluable. They know what to expect in the morning, they know what to expect on day one, how to handle themselves, and we hope that will help us do what we need to do to win here.”
The Wildcats are going for the program’s 10th state championship in 11 years. They put the pressure squarely on the opposition’s shoulders at the Lower State tournament.
Lexington posted the state’s best qualifying score of 286 at the Oct. 20 qualifier, led by Stephenson’s 66 and Burgess’s 70. The Wildcats took the Lower State title by a 41-shot margin. Upper State champion Easley posted a 320.
But that does not mean that the Wildcats do not expect a fight over two rounds in the Lowcountry this week.
“We haven’t won every tournament that we’ve played in this year, and it’s been tight in a couple of tournaments,” Smith said. “My kids know that if we play well, other teams are going to have to play well to catch us. They know what’s on the line, and they know that they will have to go out and play two solid rounds to win.”
Stephenson, who in the spring was instrumental to the Wildcats’ boys golf title, has been a steady leader for the consistent squad. Lexington notched a 298 at the Region 5-4A title match early in October.
“We really and truly never talk about a number, and I don’t put pressure on them to make a number,” Smith said. “But it’s exciting, when they play better they you expected and hit a low number.”
Last year’s title-claiming number was 580.
The state tournament begins at 9 a.m. Monday and wraps Tuesday.