By Alex Byington
SALADO - Above the athletic exit behind the Salado High School gym, there's a saying - "Tradition never graduates."
For the last three years, the Salado golf team's tradition of success has been heavily dominated by the Y chromosome - more specifically from three-time Class 2A state champion Ryan O'Rear, who won back-to-back-to-back individual titles from 2007-2009.
But with each swing of their drivers, junior Taylor O'Rear - Ryan's sister - and senior Rachel VanHoozer are representing for the X chromosome and creating a buzz all their own.
"I'm still known as 'Ryan's little sister,' but now it's more like, 'Oh wait, his little sister actually has game,'" O'Rear said with a smile. "I guess we just get a lot more notice. It's nice."
The Lady Eagles talented duo are bringing their own flavor of girl power to the Salado hallways along with teammates Haley Kemp, Leah Ray and Meredith Ward representing the favorites to win the Class 2A state championship, beginning today and Tuesday at the Roy Kizer Golf Course in Austin.
"I feel like we have a lot of people counting on us, but I think we can do it because we are a lot more of a team this year," VanHoozer said. "I just feel so much more confident with what we can do."
Last season, as the senior-laden boys team of Ryan O'Rear, Tom Baine, Jared Hahn, C.J. Little and Tyler Pines won its second straight 2A championship, the girls were happy to sit back and play second fiddle. With her brother moving on to Baylor, O'Rear and company are ready to take the winning reins.
"For us, it's pretty much about carrying on the tradition," O'Rear said. "The girls won (in 2006) and two years later the guys won two times in a row. It's almost expected now."
This year, all eyes are on the girls after a young Salado boys squad failed to make it out of the region for the first time since 2003.
"At Salado, it's just boy-dominant. So I think just getting the chance to get out there and put our names out - to put the girls on the map - is a big deal," O'Rear said, mentioning the deep state playoff run the Lady Eagle basketball team had two years ago. "We just want to show that girls have game, too. It's not just the boys that can play."
The Lady Eagles have had a long and storied tradition of golf team championships, winning it all in 1A in 1982, then again in back-to-back seasons 20 years later in 2002 and 2003 in 2A before the team of Lacey Bartlett, Sarah Dowell, Katie Harris, Veronica Patockova, and Nicole Weatherly did it most recently in 2006.
"It makes us want to work harder to prove a point that we can do it, it's not just about the boys any more," VanHoozer said.
O'Rear and VanHoozer both credited Salado golf coach Bobby Peschel, who's in his seventh year at the school, with much of the continued success.
"He knows about tradition. He knows what to tell you to calm your nerves down, he knows what to tell you to get you pumped up," O'Rear said. "If you're having any sort of trouble on the course, as soon as he tells you it, it's an automatic fix."
Since 2006 though, the girls' best finish was last year's bronze-winning performance in which VanHoozer and O'Rear finished eighth and 10th overall with two-day totals of 156 and 160, respectively.
As a freshman, O'Rear was the Lady Eagles' top finisher with a two-day total of 172 after an admittedly rough 94 on the first day.
O'Rear is again among one of the individual favorites after winning the Region IV championship three weeks ago with a 159 (83-76). VanHoozer and Kemp finished second and third behind her at 168 and 178, respectively.
As team leaders and best friends, both O'Rear and VanHoozer will be attending Mary Hardin-Baylor, where O'Rear's father is president of the university, with VanHoozer to go upon graduation later this month and O'Rear to follow a year from now.
But while their future in college appears bright, it's the present that has many people around Salado standing up and taking notice of five girls on the verge of making their own tradition.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.