By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
AUSTIN - Engulfed by her four teammates, Rachel VanHoozer was overcome with emotion - gushing tears of joy.
Approaching what she expected to be her final hole as a member of the Salado girls golf team, VanHoozer's focus was unwavering.
But after making par on No. 9, and seeing teammates Haley Kemp, Taylor O'Rear, Leah Ray and Meredith Ward racing toward her with open arms and wide "we-did-it" grins, VanHoozer knew what they'd accomplished - the Lady Eagles were once again state champions.
"That was just ... when I knew we had done it, the emotions were just - I don't even know, it was just the best feeling," VanHoozer said with tears returning almost an hour later.
Nursing a slight six-stroke lead after Monday's opening round at Roy Kizer Golf Course, Salado left an emphatic farewell mark before moving to 3A - outshooting runner-up Melissa by 25 strokes Tuesday for a dominating two-day score of 694 to claim the 2010 Class 2A state golf championship, it's fifth in school history and first since 2006.
"Five for one school is a pretty good feat, I think. It shows, tradition-wise, how good Salado is, and how good an athletic program we are," O'Rear said. "And we're looking forward to 3A next year - we're not scared."
While the Lady Eagles had locked up their team title before most players had reached the final hole, VanHoozer's day was far from over at No. 9. She still had a playoff on hole No. 10 to decide the top overall individual medalist after finishing tied with Sonora medalist Elizabeth Chavarria at 16-over-par (158).
Whether VanHoozer had expended all her energy completing the team's goal or not, she pulled her tee shot into the bunker to the right while Chavarria reached the green on her third shot and easily sank a 3-foot putt for par and the individual championship.
"I've always put myself in that situation playing (during practice)," VanHoozer said. "... So whenever it actually came down to it, and I hit that first tee shot, I was like, 'OK, just get it out of the sand.' But I couldn't do it - she was just better, I think."
Despite winds that again reached speeds up to 20 mph, four of the five Lady Eagles made up ground from Monday's opening round scores. VanHoozer improved by two strokes (80-78), while Kemp, the team's other senior, made up three shots (94-91) and Ward, the lone freshman, finished with a 94 - her first time cracking 100 and an 11-shot improvement. O'Rear finished tied for fifth overall at 163 (82-81) while Ray shot 190 (94-96).
"I'm really glad she went so low because it makes a difference that her score got to count. It's not like she rode our coattails," O'Rear said of Ward. "... And we've always been a second-round team, I think. We always shoot better the second day."
This is the fifth straight title won by a Salado team after the boys won three straight between 2007-09 and the girls won it in 2006.
"I told my team, 'We can do this.' I was like, 'I know we all want this as bad as anybody else out here,'" VanHoozer said. "The boys wanted it and every time, they got it. You have to want it and play every shot like every shot counts."
VanHoozer made every shot count with her consistency on the front nine, parring six of the holes and making up for a bogey on No. 1 with a 10-15 foot put for birdie on No. 6 that gave her a two-shot lead on Chavarria with three holes remaining.
But coming to No. 7, which she birdied Monday after reaching the green with a 3-wood off the tee, VanHoozer instead went with a 5-wood and sent her tee shot into the lake to the right, forcing her to take a one-stroke penalty drop. After reaching the green on her third shot, VanHoozer missed a short putt and double-bogeyed the hole to fall back into a two-way tie for first.
"I felt confident about every one of my shots except for that one today, and that's what happens," she said.
Ultimately, though, it was the team's accomplishments that outweighed anything individual.
"Winning the state championship as a team was really, really important to these girls because it was their year," Salado coach Bobby Peschel said.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.