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Indians head to Wichita for state

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

The Hays High School girls' golf team was a long shot to make an eighth consecutive trip to state.

With only juniors Lexie Schaben and Elissa Jensen having any varsity background, the general census was the inexperience would lead to a down year for the Indians. Even Hays High golf coach Mark Watts had doubts about the season.

"All the girls that are out now we had out here during the summer," Watts said. "I didn't know what to expect with the youth of our team. I knew we had Lexie and Elissa coming back. But then I started seeing them out on the range and hitting shots. I thought, 'Hey, we might be fairly good.' "

While the Indians haven't had any single player standout, they have surprised many by being a consistent and well-rounded team. And last week during regionals at Smoky Hill Country Club, everything came together with a first-place team finish, led by Schaben's 93.

"I'm really proud of our team and how far we've gone," Schaben said. "Losing three seniors and then having an all new team this year and making it to state again and winning regionals was really an accomplishment."

Now the Indians will see what they can do at the Class 5A state golf tournament, which begins Monday morning at Tex Consolver Golf Course in Wichita.

Schaben was the team's top finisher at state a year ago and was expected to be its top player again this season, but things just never seemed to go her way. She needed a stiffer shaft on her clubs, and started using her father's clubs, which seemed to suit her well. But it's taken her a long time to adjust to the change, and it wasn't until regionals that it all came together.

"This has probably been the most frustrated player I've ever had as far as knowing the potential is there and her just struggling with things," Watts said of Schaben. "She's gone from snap hooking it to hitting a big fade. She's gone from one extreme to another. And she has never given up."

For most of the season it has been freshman Katie Brungardt leading the scoring for Hays High. She took fourth overall at regionals with 100, second on the team behind Schaben.

Watts said that Brungardt has "a lot of talent" and had high expectations of her coming in. Despite her high scoring, Watts never played her as the team's No. 1 or No. 2 golfer, saying that he didn't want to put that sort of pressure on a freshman, especially one with little tournament experience.

Although, Brungardt is sure she is going to feel the pressure on Monday when she competes in her first state tournament.

"Yeah, probably a lot of nerves will be there," Brungardt said. "I just want a good experience at state. Just have fun. I want to take it competitively, but don't want to push myself too hard."

The Indians will also rely heavily on Jensen -- whose mother is a former state champion golfer -- and sophomore Taylor DeBoer, who is in her first year playing golf competitively.

With freshman Rhian Patterson and junior Macie Mayo, a varsity newcomer, rounding out the roster, there is a lot to look forward to next year for Hays High, which should have all six of its varsity golfers back.

"We will push ourselves a lot this summer because we have all of us back and we have a good chance next year to do a lot better than we already have," Jensen said.