State championships don’t come easy.
The Lady Hornets golf team understands that now better than ever. Plenty of tears flowed around the clubhouse at the University of Texas Golf Club on Tuesday afternoon, but those who traveled from Huntsville were crying tears of joy.
The Lady Hornets were crowned champions of Class 4A at the UIL Golf State Tournament with a total score of 318-328 — 646. It’s the first team championship for Huntsville in nearly 35 years, when the Hornets had the state’s top football team in 1980.
Senior Courtney Tibiletti also won the individual silver medal with a total score of 148, improving on her opening round 76 with a 72 on Tuesday, capped by a simple par putt on the 18th hole.
Junior Paige Weiss shot an 80 on Tuesday and a combined score of 163. Sophomore Casey Leatherman had a total of 80-87 — 167, while seniors Hannah Valentine and Reece Haralson shot 79-89 — 168 and 106-95 — 201, respectively.
The top three teams all came from Region III, but this time Huntsville was on top.
The Lady Hornets finished third at the region tournament behind Montgomery and Kingwood Park, but both teams looked up at the Huntsville girls by the end of the state championships.
“It was definitely advantageous to play with them all year and know how they are and how strong we’d have to be in order to beat them,” Tibiletti said.
Huntsville went into the final round having already established a six-shot lead Monday. The goal was to shoot better than the day before, but most importantly, play well enough to be in position to hoist the trophy.
That’s exactly what the Lady Hornets did, despite a slight dropoff from Monday’s performance.
Led by Tibiletti and with players like Weiss and Leatherman outplaying their respective groups, Huntsville imposed its will to a title.
The Lady Hornets also had a chip on their shoulders, having lost to Montgomery and Kingwood Park for most of the season.
“It was almost an angry type of feeling because we knew everyone was expecting us to choke,” Tibiletti said. “We wanted to show them that we’re ready to finally take that step.”
More than just the logistics of playing the difficult game of golf, the Lady Hornets were determined to bet on themselves as an ideal.
It didn’t matter that Montgomery and Kingwood Park had already beaten them multiple times.
“The last tournament counts,” Weiss said, quoting assistant coach Dan Leatherman. “I think we got a little too used to losing. It just feels amazing to finally have that win and it be at a tournament that matters so much.”
Sophomore Casey Leatherman shot an 87 on Tuesday, which was a downgrade from the 80 she put shot in the opening round. Despite her struggles, she played for her teammates, each of whom realized they weren’t playing for themselves, but rather each other.
“You can’t be selfish out there,” Weiss continued. “Golf is a really hard sport where if you do have a bad hole, you have to fight. What kept me going was knowing we were in first place and we could keep that if we just kept fighting. So we fought.”
Huntsville had a delicate balance of confidence and respect for the golf course. Tibiletti had a chance to fully pursue the individual gold medal, but played a measure game that allowed her to remain consistent.
Weiss saw opportunities to take more chances to shoot for a lower score, but understood when it wasn’t worth the risk.
“I have a team behind me who’s counting on me to make a par or to save my bogey and not go for it and miss it,” Weiss said, “or double or triple bogey and put that much weight on them trying to make up for me. So I stayed safe the whole time.”
Valentine also played it safe, but thought it was the most appropriate time to do so.
“If we were to win every tournament and lose the biggest one, we’d be really down right now but we’ve lost every tournament,” Valentine said. “And we won the biggest one. So that’s the most important thing.”
Relive Lady Hornets state golf championship
On Sunday night, the Huntsville girls’ golf state tournament championship will be featured on the UIL’s High School Spotlight television program.
The program, which will cover the Class 3A, 4A and 5A golf state tournaments as well as a handful of the tennis state tournaments, will air on Fox Sports Southwest on Sunday at 10:30 p.m.