Kingwood’s one-for-all M.O. highlights another swing at state
As individualistic as golf is, Kingwood’s girls team doesn’t go about it that way.
The Mustangs are essentially sisters on the course, fortified by a togetherness that absolves any selfish inhibition. They care about their individual performances, sure, but mostly because they know the effect it will have upon team goals and expectations.
The team is what matters. It’s why Kingwood is back at the UIL Class 6A state tournament for the fifth straight year, teeing off Monday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown.
“I think what has benefited us tremendously is that the top five (girls) are all basically best friends,” said sophomore Bella Flores, Kingwood’s No. 1 player and runner-up at the Region III-6A tournament last month. “You want to go play golf since you know your friends are going to be up there as well. We have all grown so close together and have made so many memories that we are all truly rooting for one another.”
Kingwood won the Region III-6A championship by an incredible 44 shots. It was quite the turnaround from last season, when the Mustangs lost the regional title by one shot. They still advanced to state by finishing as one of the top three teams at regionals but placed 10th in Georgetown.
Flores, junior Morgan Ankenbrandt, junior Kate Hartnett and senior Kathy Rodriguez are returners from last year.
“Those girls have done this before,” said coach Susan Willis, in her 15th year at the helm of the program. “We got beat last year at regionals and they wanted to rectify that this year. They’re determined to go back to state and come home with a medal. They want to win.
“They know in their hearts how good they are. They know the work it takes, and they are willing to do it every day. They’ve set their own goals as a group, and that’s the only way something like this works.”
The Mustangs are targeting a total score of 600 at state. They shot 635 last year. They have hit 600 once this year, when they shot 284 on the second day of their last regular season tournament to score 600-even.
The hope is to break 600, like elite teams can do. Lewisville Hebron, last year’s state champ, shot 598. Second-place Austin Vandegrift shot 605. Third-place Austin Westlake shot 611.
Kingwood believes it is an elite team.
It starts with Flores, who shot 9-over at regionals and has now led Kingwood to state twice. Flores said last year was critical for her. She soaked in everything and anything, from learning how to play as part of a team—her first year doing so—to acclimating to pressure and situations of postseason play.
“I try to do the very best I can for my teammates,” Flores said. “I’ve also learned a lot of new creative skills on the golf course. Going out with my teammates and playing different games have put me in difficult and different situations than what I would normally be in. My mental game has definitely improved because I’ve gained more experience and have been to more seminars.”
Willis never ceases to be amazed by Flores.
“Her drive, her desire to be the best and the work she puts in are incredible,” Willis said. “Her short game is good. She’s not a big kid. She hits the ball well for her size, but she is really good around the greens and makes good decisions the majority of the time. Her course management is very good.”
Flores’ skill and leadership are bedrocks of the team’s culture. Rodriguez is the glue of the team, a unifier who plays a huge role in keeping everyone together and on the same page.
Those two are essential to the make-up of Kingwood.
Willis also credits continuity for her program’s consistency. And she credits the local golf scene for the continuity.
Freshman Khloe Jones has been a revelation this season. She is the team’s No. 4 player. Willis is excited about another incoming freshman who figures to make an impact next year.
“The junior golf program at Kingwood Country Club is phenomenal,” Willis said. “The people there do an incredible job with tons of kids. That’s really been a big part of why we’re so successful. Kids start so young. Our assistant coach and boys head coach and I have a Lake Houston Beltway junior golf section out here, so every summer, one day a week, we have the ability to see the younger kids, starting with a five-hole division, up to nine holes, then 18 holes. Through all of that, it’s given us a constant stream of young golfers coming through.”
But these Mustangs are grown, experienced and mature. Optimistic and hungry to best the program’s previous best finish at state of sixth place.
Willis is confident her girls can do exactly that. As a team.
“As individual as golf can be, that’s not how they see it,” Willis said. “They see it as ‘I’m one person working to help the other four.’ That’s as important to their success as anything.”