Most high school sports programs go through growing pains after moving into a larger classification. But making a splash on a bigger stage is old hat for Faith Lutheran’s girls golf team.
The Crusaders won a state title in their first year in Class 3A in 2004, and now they’re a contender for the 4A crown in their first season at Nevada’s top level.
“The talent that we have on our team now is just night-and-day different,” said Mark Cheney, in his 10th season as Faith Lutheran’s coach. “Our No. 8 or 9 player now would have been my No. 1 the first year I coached.”
The Crusaders open the postseason at the Sunset Region tournament Thursday at Bear’s Best, which also is hosting the Sunrise Region tourney. Both regions tee off at 10:30 a.m.
The top two teams and five individuals from nonqualifying teams in each region clinch trips to the state tournament, which will be Tuesday and Wednesday at Boulder Creek.
“We have a great chance at winning state,” Faith Lutheran junior Ashley Lacher said. “We have three of the top players in the state. We’ve all been practicing in junior golf, worked all summer. We’re really bonded.”
Lacher won the individual 3A state title last year, but the Crusaders lacked depth. That’s changed with the additions of freshmen Annie Freman and Brianna Becker.
All three players finished in the top six of the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association’s Butch Harmon Series Tournament of Champions in August.
Another freshman, Amanda Ryu, emerged as a surprise No. 4 player, Cheney said.
He said an infusion of talent from Faith Lutheran Junior High School helped the Crusaders go from four players last year to 10 this season, which has helped Lacher.
“It definitely gives her a challenge in practice, people to push her,” Cheney said. “She played with Annie and Brianna all summer, so she was excited about having them join her so we could be competitive both as a team and individually.”
Faith Lutheran has been more than just competitive.
The Crusaders swept their five Northwest League matches by an average of 34.4 strokes, and Freman took medalist honors at each.
“My strength is I definitely hit the ball far,” Freman said. “I need to work on my putting. I’m pretty good from any side of the green, a great driver.”
Freman averaged 37 per nine holes this season, followed by Becker (40) and Lacher (41), Cheney said.
Becker said Faith Lutheran’s youth — the team has only one senior — gives the team much to look forward to.
“Having the freshmen come makes the team stronger for all four years,” she said. “The other freshmen who aren’t playing, they’ll get better from learning from everyone else.”
“We have high expectations this year, but we’ll have high expectations for the next few years,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to see how our freshmen develop and as new players join the program, how they contribute.”
Six-time defending Sunset champion Bishop Gorman probably will be Faith Lutheran’s biggest hurdle to win a region crown, let alone state. But the Crusaders aren’t daunted.
“It sets an example that we’re out here, we’re here to compete,” Lacher said of the Crusaders winning all five Northwest League matches. “We’re not going to take it just as ‘This is our rookie year.’ We’re here to do business.”