Girls golf has been part of the South Carolina prep scene for only 15 years, and Lexington has become the sport’s gold standard.
The Wildcats have been a top-10 team at the state meet every year since the inaugural event in 1999, and took it to another level starting in 2004. Including the most recent 2012 Class 4A championship, Lexington has won eight of the last nine, including a run of seven in a row before Wren ended the streak in 2011.
And with plenty of young talent on hand or on the way, the good times could continue to roll for quite some time.
“We have been very fortunate to have the kind of players you need to be successful as a team,” said coach Brandon Smith, who has been guiding the Wildcats since 2009 after Bryce Myers directed the team to five straight titles.
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“And a lot of that has nothing to do with coaching at the high school. The Country Club of Lexington has what has to be the best junior golf program in the Columbia area, in my opinion. Will Branham is the head pro and he is very supportive of junior golf. He gives young players the opportunity to develop a love for the game.
“The reason we’ve had staying power is because we have so many players who have had support and encouragement from their parents and the club from a young age. The players develop bonds walking the course so many times together and that carries over to the high school team. The older players set the example for the younger players to follow.”
The rise to greatness coincided with the arrival of the Dunnagan cousins – Danielle in 2003 and Maureen in 2004.
Danielle made the all-state team five times, and had the honor of being Lexington’s first individual champion in her final prep outing in 2008. Maureen made the all-state cut six times while playing in six championship teams and also became an individual champion in here last high school appearance in 2009.
“The program was on the threshold of being pretty good in the early 2000 before the Dunnagan’s arrived, and when they did it put us over the top” said Smith.
The Dunnagans were the foundation of Lexington’s remarkable success, but not the sole reason for the rise to prominence.
Kristen Cometto and Stephanie Brunson were early collaborators, followed by Kathryn Miranda and the Cole twins, Jordan and Kaylea. Miranda was another Country Club of Lexington product and a three-time all-state player. The Coles moved to Lexington from Oregon, and afforded the Wildcats a rare protracted run of stability.
“It is rare is golf to have the same lineup for more than two season, but with the Dunnagans, the Coles and Kathryn we had same lineup for four years which is pretty amazing,” said Smith.
The quality of Lexington’s depth simply overwhelmed the opposition. The Wildcats prevailed by an average margin of 30.5 strokes in their six 36-hole state tournament triumphs. Lexington returned to the throne last October by a 43-stroke margin.
With the passing of the pioneers, a new wave of Wildcats has kept things going with two championships and one runner-up finish over the past three seasons.
The new leaders are Lauren Stephenson and Sydney Legacy. Stephenson is a four-year starter and a three-time all-state player. She learned the ropes under Maureen Dunnagan and Miranda, and has emerged as the new team leader. Legacy, who has only been playing for about four years, is a three-year starter, a two-time all-state player and the state’s reigning individual champion.
Stephenson and Legacy should follow the lead of the Dunnagans and Miranda on to the college scene. Danielle Dunnagan played at Winthrop. Maureen Dunnagan played for two seasons at North Carolina State and is now at San Diego State. Miranda, who recently won the Columbia women’s city championship, has one year to go at College of Charleston.
COMING TUESDAY: The Chapin boys tennis team.
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State championships won by the Lexington girls golf team since the inauguration of the event in 1999 (57 percent):