By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

According to Hays High School girls' golf coach Mark Watts, the Indians were hardly met with a warm embrace when they moved from Class 5A to 4A in the fall. Despite having been one of the smaller 5A schools, HHS had always found a way to be a factor at the state level.

Then came the move to 4A and they struck while the iron was hot, using a relatively deep and experienced team to run by Topeka Hayden and win the 4A state title. It was the first state championship for the HHS girls' golf program -- the boys' team has five -- and is one of The HDN's top stories for 2014.

"I don't really even know what to say," senior Lexie Schaben said following the state tournament. "It's pretty surreal. I'm just excited and happy with all the support we've gotten, especially since girls' golf kind of goes unnoticed. It's something to definitely get us noticed."

Schaben, the Indians' senior leader entering the year, was also their best golfer at the end after a slow start to her season. She led HHS with an 87 at the par-72 Dub's Dread Golf Club in Kansas City, good for fifth place. Schaben was only eight strokes back of De Soto's Brittani Jenson, the tournament champion.

Hays High started the state tournament a little sluggish and trailed Topeka-Hayden, the defending state champion at the time, midway through their round. But the back nine was all about the Indians, who outshot Hayden by 20 strokes to earn their elusive first state title.

"The first nine was a little shaky. Had a couple girls not start real well. We were down like four strokes going into the back nine to Topeka-Hayden. Then it's just like the girls really came through," Watts said after the tournament. "It was a very rewarding day to see these girls that played well get rewarded for the hard work and effort they put in all year."

The fall was Watts' 26th season leading Hays High golf. He guided the boys' team to the 1996 state title in 5A, and came as close as being 5A runner-up with the girls' team in 2011. The girls' team does have two individual champions to its credit, but had never won the team crown before the fall.

Hays High had three other golfers medal (top 20) alongside Schaben at state. Sophomore Rhian Patterson took 11th (91), sophomore Katie Brungardt 12th (92) and junior Taylor DeBoer 16th (94). Senior Elissa Jensen (102 for 30th) and senior Macie Mayo (118 for 66th) also competed, with senior Summer Smith serving as the team's alternate, although she did not play.

"It's something they will remember forever. We get to hang a banner in the gym. Those are things you will be able to come back and see and tell your family about how you were part of a state championship," Watts said. "It doesn't matter if you are 4A or 5A, what matters is it says you are a state champion. I'm proud of them. I'm so proud of them. I love those girls. I'm going to miss those seniors."

The Hays High girls also won the Western Athletic Conference title in 2014, their first since 2006, after they swept through all five WAC tournaments, winning four of them by a single stroke over Garden City High School.

Brungardt (third), Patterson (fourth), DeBoer (fifth) and Schaben (sixth) each made the all-WAC first team. Jensen finished 11th earning honorable mention all-WAC honors.