For the better part of three months this season, the Lambert Lady Longhorns golf team was a mystery to its coach.
Good? Of course. Lambert was coming off its first state championship in program history with elite talent returning.
How good? Joel Posey didn’t know. Not until the region championship.
That was the first time Lambert used its top four golfers together, and the result was frightening – the Lady Longhorns won by 44 strokes and set a record for the program’s lowest tournament score.
It was a startling preview of what might be in store for Lambert as it attempts to defend the Class AAAAAA championship tomorrow at the Gordon Lakes Golf Club in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
"I look forward to seeing what my top four are going to shoot," Posey said, "because all year we don’t see them matched together until the end when we pull out all the horsepower."
So here they come - junior Michaela Owen, sophomores Lauren Lightfritz and Kayley Marschke and freshman Christine McDonnell.
"They’re all elite talents," Posey said.
Indeed, few can match the collection of skill Lambert possesses.
Owen was the low medalist at the state tournament last season, shooting a 71 and winning in a playoff. Ranked 44th in the country in the Class of 2015, she signed with Auburn in April and will skip her senior year at Lambert to start her college career.
But Owen’s stroke average in tournaments this season of 73 is second on the team to Marschke. The sophomore’s stroke average of 70 is on pace for beat Owen’s school record. Ranked 45th in the country in the Class of 2016, her 5-under 67 at the Region 6-AAAAAA championship was a school record for the lowest score at a region tournament.
Lightfritz isn’t far behind. She’s averaged 76 at tournaments this season and is ranked No. 79 in the Class of 2016, while McDonnell has a stroke average of 81.
With Lambert’s exceptional talent, Posey and the players say two things happen.
First, the Lady Longhorns experience competitiveness in practices and events few schools can replicate.
"They realize that they’re competing against the best in Georgia on our team," Posey said. "It makes a difference."
But it also allows players room for error.
"We have more of an opportunity where if one girl falls the three other scores can keep her up," Owen said.
That’s a luxury Lambert’s foursome, as well as senior Kelsey Fayer, junior Sharon Kim and freshman Alison Crenshaw, don’t experience the other nine months of the year.
When it’s not high school golf season, Lambert’s team dissolves into its individual parts. They play amateur events around the state and Southeast where every accomplishment or failure is their own to claim.
Owen said that’s part of the appeal of golf to her, "the individual concept of having to do something under pressure and being proud of yourself at the end," she said.
And yet the team atmosphere was one reason Owen said she felt comfortable graduating high school a year early to go to Auburn where she’d still have teammates while trying to navigate the transition to college.
Part of Lambert’s success despite its brief history has been how competitiveness and camaraderie has maintained the perfect balance. Posey keeps track of players’ stroke averages in tournament play and uses it to determine the team’s lineup from event to event. Lightfritz, Marschke and Owen said they don’t fret over it. But they don’t let a poor shot at practice go by as a missed opportunity.
"We joke a lot on the golf course and say we’re going to take your spot," Owen said. "But we never mean it."
No, they relish the experience of so many top players coming together with one goal.
"I love it. It’s fun. We’re all really good friends. We’re close," Marschke said. "It’s completely different in a way, but I love it."