SALADO — It wasn’t that the Salado girls golf team didn’t know it was capable of reaching this point.
The Lady Eagles were at this point last year, fresh off a district and regional championship, and eventually went on to win the big one in a state championship.
But after losing one of its most important players to graduation, Salado just wasn’t sure it would be able to navigate the rocky path to a repeat.
Except now, the Lady Eagles are one step away from doing just that.
“We had a lot of pressure on us with district championship, regional championship and state championship last year. So we were like can we do it again?” Salado senior Rachel Ray said. “And so far we have two of those boxes checked off and we’re just looking to see if we can get the third one.”
Ray is one of four players, along with senior Kate Goldsmith, junior Sarah Colley and sophomore Molly Rodeffer, who were part of the state championship team from last year.
But the key player to that team, state runner-up Meredith Ward, is gone.
And while Ward is the only player gone from that team, she was, perhaps, the most important one.
“We miss having Meredith,” Ray said. “She was a real asset.”
Now, that spot belongs to freshman Kristin Crouch, who has handled the transition from junior high competition to playing for a team with state title aspirations.
“Better than I did last year,” the sophomore Rodeffer said with a laugh.
But Crouch, who admitted she was a bit nervous joining the team, said her teammates have been just as big a help to her as she has to them.
“Meredith, of course, is really good, so I had to kind of fill in and so that was a little scary,” Crouch said.
“But they welcomed me, and I really like them as a team.”
And even without Ward leading the way, Salado continues to compete at a high level.
The numbers, in fact, say that the Lady Eagles are playing better now than they were a year ago en route to the state title.
“Last year, at state, we were shooting the mid-350’s,” head coach Ty Brown said. “The girls have gone as low as 349 this year, so they have improved over last year’s squad.”
The girls say it is because they are better from top to bottom.
Whereas last year, Ward was expected to lead the way, the team never knows who will be No. 1 on any given weekend.
But the Lady Eagles see that as a positive, with anyone ready to pick a teammate up at any moment.
“If we win this year, it’s not going to be one person making us win,” Colley said. “It’s going to be all of us pitching in as a team.”
Brown said his team will have to be even better than it has been this season if it hopes to walk away with a second straight state title May 1.
And while the pressure to repeat is on, it isn’t anything he feels his team can’t handle.
“Yes, it’s more pressure, but ultimately, it’s the pressure you put on yourself,” Brown said. “They’re not playing defense on us or anything.”
And after proving to themselves that they can still compete with the best this season, the Lady Eagles believe they have already conquered the mental aspect.
“We have nothing to lose,” Ray said, “so we’re just going to go in there and give it our all.”
“We’ll just have to prove we can do it again,” Goldsmith said.
CLASS 2A STATE GOLF TOURNEY
April 30-May 1 at Roy Kizer Golf Course (5,329 yards, par 71), Austin, 8 a.m.