BLANKET — Following a fourth-place team finish a year ago, the Blanket Lady Tigers have set their sights on the Class A girls golf state championship as they return to Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin Monday and Tuesday.
The Region II-A champion Lady Tigers, who topped Tioga by 39 strokes during the two-day tournament at Squaw Valley Golf Course in Glen Rose, are looking to redeem themselves after a less than satisfactory performance in Austin last May.
Blanket netted an 841 composite score at state last year, rebounding from an opening 442 with a 399 second-day score. The Lady Tigers finished behind state champion Utopia (395-394=789) , runner-up Robert Lee (418-411=829) and third-place Motley County (416-426=842).
“Last year we didn’t really perform our best but this year we’re going back strong,” said Lady Tiger Kenzie Tidwell.
Coming off an 83-stroke victory at regionals a year ago, the Lady Tigers may have been too overconfident heading into the state tournament, according to head coach Monty Jones.
“I think we thought all we had to do was show up and we’d walk away with the gold medals,” Jones said. “We had some adversity and we didn’t handle it well. We certainly have the talent to win it, these kids can play golf, but they let some things get under their skin and got totally away from their character. We didn’t handle the pressure of being a favorite, we didn’t live up to expectations. But these girls have matured.”
Jones pointed to their performance at the regional tournament this year, where the Lady Tigers again won handily despite less than favorable weather conditions.
“We changed regionals from Legends Country Club in Stephenville to Squaw Valley in Glen Rose, which is more of a links course, and we had horrendous conditions,” Jones said. “It was cold and windy and then hot and windy. How we handled those conditions was a major factor in why we won by 39 strokes. Iredell and Tioga are no slouches, but they lost their cool because of the weather.”
The Lady Tigers posted a two-round team total score of 776, easily outdistancing runner-up Tioga (815) and third-place Iredell (870). Marki Kinkade captured another regional championship with rounds of 86 and 82 for a composite 168 total, while teammate Emily Furry was the runner-up with a 190 composite score after rounds of 96 and 94. Cassie Furry chipped in a 206 with rounds of 105 and 101, while Tidwell contributed a 212 with consecutive 106s.
“We didn’t play our best, none of us honestly, but we’re excited to go back (to state),” Emily Furry said. “We have a decent chance of winning state this year.”
Being familiar with Lions Municipal Golf Course could be a major advantage for the Lady Tigers in their pursuit of the state championship.
“I feel like we’re more confident because we know the course more than we did coming into it last year,” said Cassie Furry.
Jones added, “It’s not a long course, but there’s trouble at every corner if you’re not paying attention. Our chipping and putting has gotten better and you have to do that at Lions. The undulation on those greens, if you don’t hit it in the right spot you have some crazy putts. We’ve played it enough to have an advantage by knowing where to keep the ball.”
The Lady Tigers head into state having won all but two tournaments in which they’ve competed — one was due to only having three active players, all of whom finished in the top 5, while the second was a runner-up finish to defending 3A state champion Sonora in San Saba. And the Lady Tigers were quick to point out they finished just five strokes back of Sonora.
“We’ve played some very tough courses this year and handled adversity a lot better, so I think our outcome will be a lot better,” Jones said. “Our course management this year has been a tremendous difference compared to how we approached last year. Last year we just hit it and hit again and whatever happened, happened. We just relied on our talent.
“With a year of experience we’re smarter and from day one you could see that everything is going to be OK. We don’t have to play our very best golf to win, we just have to stay out of trouble. If we get in trouble, get out and we’ll be fine. That’s not to say they still don’t get emotional now and then. But I’m proud of the time they put in. They don’t quit until they get it right, and I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”
Individually, Kinkade came in seventh at state in 2016 with a 178 composite following rounds of 91 and 87 after finishing as the state runner-up in 2015 with a 161 total behind rounds of 82 and 79. Fort Elliott’s Shaley Goad, who won the state championship each of the last two years, will again return to Austin as well and is the chief threat to Kinkade’s quest for the title. Goad defeated Kinkade by seven strokes in 2015 and cruised to a 13-stroke victory last year.
“This year I’m more calm so think I have a better chance,” Kinkade said regarding her odds of winning the state championship. “I got a really emotional last year, all of us did.”