Practice makes perfect for Yoakum girls golf team
May 12, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.
Updated May 13, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.
YOAKUM - Nicco Brown understands the experiences the Yoakum girls golf team is going through as it preps for the state championships Thursday, and not just because she is the coach.
Brown played for the Lady Bulldogs from 1990 to 1993, and went to the state tournament all four years. Yoakum hasn't missed a UIL State Golf Championship since Ronald Reagan's first term as president, a total of 29 straight years.
Brown succeeded her coach, Grant Gurewich, whom she said she learned how to coach from before taking over in 2001. He led the team to 14 medal finishes in his 20 years with the program before Brown took over the team, and they haven't missed a beat in her nine years as coach so far.
"That was where I learned how to practice, how to putt and chip and hit on the driving range, and going onto the course and making something of each shot instead of just hitting the ball. Grant Gurewich was my coach then, and he was who I learned who to coach from."
And the Lady Bulldogs aren't just barely winning, they are outright dominating their competition. Yoakum won District 28-3A by a commanding 95 shots over second-place Edna, and led from start to finish at the Region IV-3A tournament, taking a 25-shot team lead into the second day and winning by 55 strokes over second-place Sealy.
This year, the team will look to a young line up that includes junior Olivia Esparza, sophomores Erin Jirkovsky, Kayli Garber, Katherine Hull and Laken Garza, and senior Dee Ann Stasny.
They also take time to learn their courses, including Roy Kizer Golf Course in Austin, which will be the site of the Class 3A state tournament.
"Playing the course for such a long time, and so many times, it's like our other home course," said Esparza, who said she's played Roy Kizer a total of five times.
But it isn't just playing the course that will give the Lady Bulldogs an edge, said senior Dee Ann Stasny.
"I think we have an edge as a team, because Coach Brown makes us focus not just how we play when we go up there, but how the course is, how the greens run and how many up-downs we get," she said. "We really focus on the minor details that could happen."
Yoakum's success begins and ends with how they practice. The team routinely works on its short game, Brown said, putting and chipping regularly at Yoakum Municipal Golf Course.
"In the beginning, the difference was that Yoakum was practicing and a lot of other teams weren't," Brown said. "It makes a big difference, they don't just show up to the tournaments and play, they practice all week and then show up to play. There were enough girl golfers that they were competitive against each other, which made them better. Once it happened for a couple of years, people want to be a part of it, kind of like a tradition of some kind."
The team does see competition beyond the normal slate of Class 3A tournaments, which help them prepare for what they will see at the state championships.
"We played at a state preview tournament, which is always more challenging for us," Brown said. "I try to take them to tournaments where we aren't going to win, but they can play against people from 4A and 5A schools that are a little bit better, so that they can learn from that experience."
Added Stasny: "We've played other tournaments where these 5A schools come out and whip on us. You know, just because you get in the lead, and you feel confident, you can't let that get to you, and we know that."
Players start young, Brown said. The girls golf team at Yoakum Middle School is where several of the golfers on the current team learned the skills to be successful once they got to the high school level.
"We start here in seventh grade, and they stick with it all six years," she said.
Golf is a year-round sport in Yoakum, starting in the fall and continuing through the year. Not all players, though, are just members of the golf team.
"It's a long year, September to May, and we practice every day," Brown said. "One goes and plays basketball, and then she comes back and plays after that. At small schools, you have to share like that."
Yoakum figures to face strong competition from the other teams this year. Brown said she thinks the Lady Bulldogs will play well, and have a shot at placing among the top teams.
"Region I is really strong, they brought in two teams that, just from their region scores, are lower than what we had at regionals," Brown said. "I think there's a chance for us to medal. Depending on how we play will determine which medal we get."