The All Saints Trojans and Grace Community Lady Cougars head into the TAPPS 4A state golf championships on divergent trajectories.
Grace senior Ellen Dixon has battled through an injury to help lead the Lady Cougars to their seventh straight state appearance under coach Libby Dixon, who is in her final year in charge.
All Saints senior Trevor Long, having missed out on state his first three years, has helped the young Trojans reach state for the first time in five years.
The first round of the tournament begins today at Twin Rivers Country Club in Waco. The second and final round is Tuesday.
All Saints has turned in some of the top scores in East Texas this year and burst onto the scene at the start of the season by beating schools like Robert E. Lee, Nacogdoches, Pine Tree and Hallsville in the Brook Hill Golf Invitational on Feb. 4.
After the first tournament, Trojans coach Garrett Smith knew he had a good team.
“We beat pretty much everybody in our district and the top teams in the area,” Smith said. “I think a couple of them were shocked at how well they did.”
On the other hand, the Grace golfers have had to improve all around to make up for Ellen Dixon, who admitted she hasn’t performed her best due to a wrist injury.
“They’ve all pulled together and they’ve all shot better scores than they did last season,” Libby Dixon said. “They’ve really held their own with (Ellen) being injured all year.”
All Saints has been led by sophomores Andrew Bloch and Jackson Smith, as well as Long. Junior Luke Haberle and freshman Collin Howell round out the five Trojans heading to state.
Bloch is the only one with state experience from All Saints, finishing seventh last year competing as a medalist. He finished fourth at the TAPPS 2-4A tournament in Carrollton and second in the regional tournament in Lubbock.
Bloch said he hopes to peak at state.
“It’s amazing, we have so much talent,” Bloch said of the team. “We got beat by 11 shots (at regionals). We didn’t all play our best, so I think we have a shot at winning state.”
Jackson Smith, son of the coach, also thinks the Trojans can vie for a title if they play their best. The sophomore won the district tournament and said he is performing much better than last year, improving in all facets of his game.
“It’s been awesome,” he said of this season in which All Saints has won five tournaments. “We’ve had a really good season, doing way better than last year. We’re all playing good.”
Long devoted himself to reaching state, but still brings a much-needed, laid-back personality, Garrett Smith said.
“He’s turned his game around,” the coach said.
Long, who will head to Texas A&M next fall, said he thinks All Saints has a good chance to finish as one of the tops teams in the state.
“We have a lot of talent so if we put it all together, we’re right there,” Long said.
While Long is looking forward to his first state appearance, the Libby and Ellen Dixon are planning to savor their final trip to state as a mother-daughter, coach-golfer combo.
Libby Dixon became the Lady Cougars coach seven years ago at the request of then-Grace athletic director Jeff Smith. As a former high school golfer herself, she knew the value of a consistent coach for a girls golf team.
“This is my last year; it’s bittersweet,” Libby Dixon said. “It’s been enjoyable, fun having (Ellen) on the team.
“It’s time to move on. I have a lot of great memories. I’ve had a lot of fun girls to be around over the last seven years. It’s been a good thing.”
Libby Dixon said coaching her daughter has been “pretty good, mostly.”
“It’s great having her as the coach because she’s always there with me and she’ll encourage me no matter what,” Ellen Dixon said. “It’s fun because it makes our relationship even better as well.”
Ellen Dixon has managed to fight through her injury to remain Grace’s top scorer. She hasn’t competed in any tournaments other than at district and regionals.
“It’s affected a lot mentally because you have to work through the pain and everything with it to be able to focus but somehow I’ve been able to do it for the past two (tournaments),” said the senior who will attend Oklahoma next fall. “Basically this year it’s been the team pulling us through and going everywhere because I haven’t been able to perform my best.”
Last year the Lady Cougars finished sixth in the state, with Ellen Dixon leading the way as Mitali Ghuge and Natalie Mills competed as freshmen.
Mills had her best tournament of the year at Twin Rivers last year.
“It’s been fun and it’s been a learning experience,” Mills said of her sophomore year, during which her chipping has improved.
Also on the team this year is senior Bailey Barret, who went to state as a freshman and sophomore before taking a year off from golf last year.
“It was a little rough at first, for sure,” Barret said of returning to golf.
Barret, whose sister Libby, a freshman, also played golf for Grace this year, will attend Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia next year.
“I think it’s been one of the most fun years,” Barret said.
Ghuge has also had fun this year while developing a stronger drive.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s kind of like a family because we spend so much time together, especially on trips and stuff.
“I’m going to be real sad when it’s over because this is what I look forward to all year.”