The perennially strong Redmond High School girls’ golf team, which hasn’t lost a league match since 2003, had every reason to begin their 2012 season with lessened expectations.
The team graduated seven seniors last year, including most of their state tournament finalists, and head coach Jake Crowley just wasn’t sure if the Mustangs’ winning tradition would last.
But so far this spring, the Mustangs have shown a commitment to being competitive, and are as tight-knit a bunch as ever, according to the sixth-year coach.
“They’re really nice kids and getting better every day,” Crowley said. “The younger kids look up to the older kids and they develop those practice habits and expectations. The bonding this year is the best we’ve ever had – they’re doing team dinners and getting together and playing on the weekends … at this point, it couldn’t be any better to start the year.”
A NEW LEADER
After losing seven upperclassmen, Crowley was looking for someone to step up and take the role of team captain, and that someone is talented senior Keira O’Hearn.
O’Hearn, who was helping teammates on their short game at a recent practice, has been shooting lights-out this season and will lead the young squad.
“She’s taken this captainship as something that’s spurring her on and motivating her,” noted Crowley, adding that she has already been accepted into the Honors program at Western Washington University. “She’s been shooting in the 30s out here, and she had a (1-under) 35 in a practice match up at Newcastle.”
Also contributing scorers for the Mustangs will be state returner Casie Helgeson, a sophomore, and seniors Makayla Hayward, Alicia Hooper and Sam Saleba.
Hayward was the only returner besides O’Hearn to make the cut at state last year.
While not quite as deep as they were in 2011, O’Hearn believes the team definitely has what it takes to make a run at a ninth-consecutive Kingco championship.
“A lot of people thought (being young) was going to be a really big setback for us,” she said. “But, we’ve got four really experienced, talented seniors, and got some young girls that are looking really promising. I’m pretty excited at our prospects.”
In social circles, it’s hard to talk about the Mustang girls’ golf team without someone mentioning “The Streak,” or the team’s unbelievable run of 88-straight 4A Kingco match wins dating back to 2003.
While keeping that record alive is never at the forefront of his players’ minds, according to Crowley, he said that they have been talking about Newport High’s team, and their highly-anticipated home match against the powerhouse Knights.
“The streak is something they know about, but we don’t talk about it a lot,” admitted Crowley. “We have talked about Newport. In our practice match we were able to hang right with them … realizing we can (match up), we’re excited.”
Two years ago, Newport nearly derailed the Mustangs’ then 73-match streak, but O’Hearn, as a sophomore, fired the round of her life to keep it alive.
She shot a 1-under 35 on the difficult China Creek front nine to lead Redmond’s 214-215 win, and the senior may need a similar type of performance this year.
Win or lose, however, the Mustangs will again be focusing on the postseason, and getting as many girls through to the 4A state tournament as possible.
In a fortunate move, the site for this year’s district tournament was moved right into the Mustangs’ backyard, Willows Run in Redmond.
O’Hearn is hoping for a top-3 finish.
“It’s going to be difficult, but I have faith in myself especially with Willows being the district course,” she said.
Added Crowley, “Playing 9 or 18 (holes) at Willows will be a regular part of our practice schedule this year. We’re lucky that (Willows) is that close.”
If that wasn’t enough, the state venue also changed to favor the Mustangs – and O’Hearn in particular – from the tight and challenging Downriver course in Spokane to nearby Meadowwood, which plays wide open, fairly flat, and is lined by sparse rows of young trees, much like Willows Run.
“(Downriver) was really difficult, a lot of really good shots were penalized,” recalled Crowley, who said he’ll be taking the Mustangs on a team trip to the course in late April. “We’re excited about the change in venue, it’s friendlier for our kids.”
After a disappointing 86-83–169 performance last year in Spokane for a 29th-place finish, O’Hearn could hardly contain her excitement when talking about Meadowwood, a course she has already played, and loved.
“Meadowwood is a very good course for me … it’s much more open, very much my kind of course compared to Downriver,” she described. “I’m really excited … I hope to be top 10 or top 15.”
The Mustangs’ big showdown with Newport is scheduled for April 26, starting at 3 p.m. at Bear Creek Country Club in Woodinville.