Although the signature stage of the season is still a few weeks away, the Carrollton High School girls' golf team is gearing up for its other major event of the year come Monday when it plays host to the 2017 Lady Trojan Invitational, sponsored by Corus360.
The 11-team field is once again loaded with some of the state's premier players and programs, including defending champion Calhoun, along with last year's runner-up Woodward Academy. With 48 golfers hitting the course at Sunset Hills Country Club for the 3:20 p.m. start, Carrollton head coach Kurt Hitzeman expects to see some tremendous talent posting low scores when all is said and done.
"Again, as it has been for the past few years, it's one of the stronger fields for a girls' tournament in the state. No question," Hitzeman said.
Along with the host squad, Central and Bremen will also be on hand to provide even more of a local flavor among the competitors.
"This year we were able to extend the invite to both the Central Lions and Bremen Blue Devils. They both have some talented players in their girls' golf program. We wanted to allow them the opportunity to play against top-notch competition near home," Hitzeman said. "We think they will appreciate the environment we provide for them. So we hope to help grow golf in the area by including them, as well."
As for his own team, Hitzeman has been extremely pleased with its performance this year and he's hoping to get another quality outing on Monday.
"They've met and exceeded expectations nearly every time out. Our goal coming into the year was to qualify for state as a team this year after narrowly missing out last year," Hitzeman said. "So far, every indication is that we should be able to do that and then some this year."
Leading the way for Carrollton this spring is its three returnees — junior Taylor Gray and seniors Samantha Pope and Camryn Ramsey.
Gray, who has been a top performer over the past few years, is confident this group can get over the hump and back into the state tournament.
"We're having the best Carrollton Lady Trojan team we've had in a few years, probably since they won state in 2013. I think we'll post a qualifying score for state. That's our goal for this year is to make it to state," Gray said.
Before the stretch run to state, the junior wants to make a strong showing at Monday's event to set the tone for a strong finish.
"It's a great tournament. It's run very well. Coach Hitzeman does a great job with it and I look forward to it every year," Gray said.
Playing in her final Lady Trojan Invitational, Pope is also excited about what's in store for Monday.
"There's some heavy hitters coming in, but we should rank pretty well. I'm pretty excited to see how everyone plays," Pope said.
Pope, too, believes the Lady Trojans are not only poised to get to state, but make some noise once they get there, especially since Carrollton is a host site this year at Oak Mountain Championship Golf Club.
"I'm super pumped. I'm ready to get things rolling going into region. I'm ready to see how everyone performs. We have a couple of freshmen that we're trying to figure out who to put at No. 4," Pope said.
Ramsey noted how the team has come a long way this year, and the focus is to keep improving leading up to area and, ultimately, state.
"I think we'll make it to state this year. The three of us returning are doing pretty well. I think we're going to hit pretty well at area, and we'll see who our fourth person is. We have a lot of good girls, so I think they're going to bring it home for us," Ramsey said.
Behind the strong nucleus of Gray, Pope and Ramsey, Hitzeman also has a solid core of younger players coming up the ranks and he's hoping this group lays the foundation for the next few years.
"I've been very pleased. I can't say enough about the help that I've received from my assistants, and especially Joel Gray, who has been instrumental in the success that the girls have had this year," Hitzeman said.