By AUSTIN COLBERT
It was simply an awful performance from Hays High School senior golfer Lexie Schaben, and one she wanted to forget as soon as possible.
The girls' golf season opened on Sept. 2 with the Hays Invitational at Smoky Hill Country Club, where Schaben, the team's expected leader entering the season, shot a 15th-place 57 in the nine-hole tournament, one of her worst scores at Hays High's home course.
Distraught from her round, Schaben decided to play another nine holes that same afternoon, and improved by nine strokes on her tournament score.
"I don't know, I wasn't happy with my performance and knew I could do a lot better. So I wanted to prove myself," Schaben said. "I was so upset at our Hays tournament that I couldn't contribute to the team, being a senior leader. Then toward the end of the month being able to come back is amazing, especially to contribute to the team and set an example for the underclassmen is great."
Schaben steadily improved at each tournament, finally breaking through with a win at the Liberal Invitational on Sept. 25, where she outshot the eventual WAC player of the year, Garden City's Danielle Gaspar, by four strokes. She finished conference play with a second-place round at Great Bend last Tuesday, one that helped clinch Hays High's first WAC title since 2006.
"That was tough, to see her play that way in that first tournament. She wanted it so bad I think she just tried too hard," Indian coach Mark Watts said.
"She puts in a lot of extra work. She even goes and plays golf courses with her dad on the weekend. They will go out and play the course we are supposed to. So her work ethic, I've not had very many girls that have that. That's great."
With Schaben's swing fully operational and the Indians' confidence high riding a sweep of all five WAC tournaments, Hays High looks to be in prime position as it heads to the Larned Country Club on Monday for its Class 4A regional.
Among the competition for Hays High, which needs to finish in the top three out of nine teams to advance to next week's state tournament in Kansas City, is Goodland, the 4A state runner up last season. Also in the field is host Larned, sixth in 4A in 2013, Colby (12th in 4A in 2013) and upstart Thomas More Prep-Marian, led by freshman Karee Dinkel.
Moving down from 5A, the nine-hole Larned Country Club is a course Hays High is wholly unfamiliar with, having only recently played a practice round on it for the first time.
"Small greens. Some fairly long par fours. It's just like any other course we play. We got to go out and beat the golf course," Watts said. "I think the girls, with the way they've worked in practice and just playing in all the tournaments we've had toward the end of the year, I think they are comfortable with their swings. We've had some ups and downs with some of the girls, but they've been able to work through those problems. Basically right now it's all just confidence, trusting your swing and then if you have a bad hole, don't let it bother you."
Individual pressure shouldn't been too high for the Indians, as they have never needed a single player to carry them at any point this season. Hays High has had four different players lead them in scoring throughout the year, with Schaben and sophomore Katie Brungardt being the two with tournament wins.
With depth a strong point for HHS, it should be among the favorites to win Monday's regional.
"I think I had a really good season. I was happy with getting third in WAC and Rhian (Patterson) and Taylor (DeBoer) and Lexie finishing the places after," Brungardt said. "It was really nice. It was a good experience and with the seniors getting to win, it was fun helping them out and getting them to win WAC."