Amarillo High has high expectations heading into Class 5A state golf tournament

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The Amarillo High Lady Sandies will compete at the UIL Class 5A state golf tournament on Monday and Tuesday. [provided photo]
This is highly familiar territory right now for the Amarillo High girls golf team.

For the second straight year, Amarillo High is headed to the state tournament, this time as the Region I-5A champion. Returning to the Class 5A state tournament starting Monday at Georgetown’s Legacy Hills Golf Club was hardly unexpected.

After reaching state last year by finishing third as a team in the region tournament, AHS coach Skyler Walden knew he had a lot to work with coming into this year.

“We knew we were right up there, and we played a lot of tournaments with some of the top teams in the region and we were able to compete with them throughout the year,” Walden said. “That wasn’t even with the whole team. I think we’ve been peaking at the right time.”

Senior Charlee Thacker, the No. 1 player in the lineup, has been the most solid player for Amarillo High, and having been to four straight state tournaments as an individual or as part of a team, she was an obvious place to start. While Thacker has provided a sturdy leg for the foundation, she’s not the only one holding it together.

Amarillo High didn’t lose any key golfers from last season, so it was just a matter of who was going to step forward in the lineup and where.

“Since we got done with the state tournament last year we didn’t have any seniors,” Walden said. “They didn’t reach their goal at the state tournament. We knew we had the potential because we’d been there.”

When they were there last year, the AHS girls finished 10th in the team standings and Thacker tied for fifth in the individual standings. She will go out never having failed to compete in a state tournament, and it’s become an expectation for her to still be playing in the last tournament of the season.

“It would have been a huge disappointment since I’d been (to state) all three years,” said Thacker of the possibility of missing state. “If I didn’t get to go my senior year I would have been bummed for sure, so I was super excited to get to go again this year.”

Thacker’s hardly alone in making the trip. Fellow senior Christie Jones and sophomores Addi Britten and Tyler Held all went last year with Thacker, and they’ll be joined this year by freshman McKenna Montoya.

There’s no doubt Amarillo High returned a strong enough corps to inspire high expectations. However, Thacker has been first among equals as the player with the most experience, and she’s gotten the team to follow her lead.

“I was really blessed to have some amazing seniors my freshman year, so I really wanted to be a good example to the underclassmen this year.” Thacker said. “I try and lead by example more than anything rather than telling them what to do. I feel pretty good about how I’ve led this team.”

Yet, the question of which girl is playing the best for Amarillo High heading into the state tournament might be debatable. At the region tournament in Lubbock, which AHS won by 29 shots with a 609 total, Thacker and Britten tied for second with 36-hole totals of 148, forcing a playoff for the silver medal and second place.

Since both were guaranteed a trip to the state tournament due to Amarillo High’s region title, Thacker and Britten were engaged in a battle for bragging rights without pressure, which went to Thacker on the playoff hole.

“Whoever won would be a good fit,” Britten said. “Going into the playoff was a little nerve-wracking because it was the regionals with all the people watching, but we had to prepare just as if we were going to play that round. I feel like I might have been a bit more competitive against somebody who wasn’t my teammate. I was pretty excited about getting third.”

Thacker and Britten weren’t the only Amarillo High players to have distinguished individual finishes. Held finished 10th in the medalist standings with a 154.

Prior to golf season, Held was committed to Amarillo High’s perennially successful girls basketball team. That means she hasn’t played as many competitive rounds as most of her teammates, but she’s still got a secure spot.

“We have five pretty solid girls so we knew we should go back to state,” Held said. “I get back into it pretty quick (from basketball). We’re confident where we’re at. It’s just who you play with, and spots don’t matter.”

It looks like a case of a year older and a year wiser for the AHS girls. Walden sees that as the prevailing attitude on the team for all the returnees.

“We won by 29 strokes (at regionals) but we left feeling we could play better,” Walden said. “That’s the thing about this team, they always feel like they can do a little bit better and can improve. We always talk about how you own your round and learn from your round. They do a good job dealing with that.”

While making the state tournament might be a familiar situation to four of the five returning Amarillo High players, the location is new. Last year, the 5A girls state tournament was also in Georgetown, only it was at White Wing Golf Club.

Thacker thinks the change will work to her and her team’s advantage.

“It’s a little bit easier and shorter and good for the long hitters who play more aggressive,” Thacker said. “I’m really excited because I think we can play pretty well on this course and do something special.”

Those who’ve played the course say it tends to reward accuracy more than distance. There are things which golfers in the Texas Panhandle aren’t used to dealing with as much, such as an abundance of trees.

Walden thinks that finding out where the bounces might be a key to the round.

“I think it’s more a different look,” Walden said. “When you start playing in the Hill Country, there’s a lot more slopes that you have to play. You know that ball’s going to roll out or not roll out as much depending on the hill. There’s a lot more hills than what we’re used to in Amarillo, Texas.”

Entering this year’s state tournament as a region champion with an extra year of experience should be highly beneficial for Amarillo High, especially with four returning players who went to state last year.  The team stacks up fairly well score wise with the rest of the field.

“Last year we didn’t have any seniors on the team so coming into this year we had a lot of potential,” Britten said. “I think we all improved. We went into the season knowing we would probably do pretty good at regionals and maybe even have a chance to medal at the state tournament.

“It’s a different course this year so I feel just trying to improve would be a good start. I think (a medal) is pretty realistic if we all do our part.”

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