When Mount Airy’s Lady Granite Bears golf team assembled Monday at Cross Creek for its first practice of the season, head coach Tommye Phillips took little time to introduce one of her players as “the best 1A golfer in the state.”
Junior Alyssa Cox indeed owns that title. Last October 24, she beat every other 1A golfer in the 1A/2A state championships at Foxfire Village. Four golfers who all represented 2A schools were the only ones to top her performance.
But there is a lot more to the two-time defending Northwest 1A Conference champions than just one precocious star player.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this season, but we have some really good golfers,” said Phillips. “I was quite pleased with the freshman turnout, and they’re all excited to get out and play.”
The Mount Airy girls will be seeking an encore to a season in which they captured another conference title and landed three players on the All-Conference team. They followed that up with a second-place finish at the 1A/2A West Regional, losing only to eventual state champion West Davidson, a 2A school. At the state tournament, the Lady Bears finished seventh, but third among 1A teams. And last but not least, if there had been a separate 1A tournament, Cox would have been state champion.
The Lady Bears’ top player has her sights set on winning it regardless of who she has to beat, but no one’s looking ahead to October yet. A tougher conference awaits the team, and they’ll have to deal with that before seeking postseason laurels.
“We’re trying to repeat as conference champions first,” said Phillips. “We’ve got South Stokes added to our conference, and East Surry is always tough. So that will be our first goal.”
Everyone else’s will be to beat Mount Airy. That won’t be easy, either.
The Lady Bears have just one senior among the eight players on its 2017 roster, and she is one of the five newcomers, multi-sport athlete Tatyana Long. Two of the three players who represented the Lady Bears last October in the state championships are back in the fold, those being junior co-captains Cox and Bailey Flippen.
To those who follow Mount Airy athletics, Cox needs no introduction. She took up the sport in earnest before she entered high school, and in her second match as a Lady Bear, set a school record by shooting 33 over nine holes at Cross Creek on September 8, 2015. She and Flippen helped Mount Airy to the conference title that season and ended the season by being chosen to the All-Conference team. As a sophomore, she captured NW1A Player of the Year honors, then continued playing during the off-season, placed in the top 10 of seven of the 12 tournaments she entered, and won The Warrior Tournament, hosted by the N.C. Junior Golf Association, on Nov. 13 of last year.
Flippen took up golf seriously when she joined the team as a freshman in high school, when Phillips persuaded her to play competitively. A two-sport athlete at MAHS, she was on the court last March when the Lady Bears won the 1A state girls’ basketball title. However, she enjoys her time on the links more, and said she would like to earn a ring in golf before she leaves high school.
“I really like how playing golf relaxes me,” she said. “It’s not as fast-paced as basketball is. It helps me to calm down.”
Flippen earned her second straight All-Conference citation last year, but felt she could have played better and helped the Lady Bears to achieve even more than they did.
“I didn’t do as well as I had wanted,” said Flippen, who had a solid season but struggled in the state finals. “I would like to shoot better than I did last season. It will take a lot of hard work and practice.”
Between them, Cox and Flippen have already seen plenty of competition against the state’s best, and Phillips will count on them to lead this year’s team.
“Alyssa and Bailey are both really good golfers and team leaders,” she said. “The captain’s spot is important, but I think they will both do well.”
Another returning veteran is their junior classmate Emma Ratcliff. Ratcliff joined the Lady Bears a year ago and turned in a solid performance for a player in her first competitive season.
“She has improved greatly over last year, and we’re glad to have her back,” said Phillips.
Another key player could be incoming freshman Kayden Jenkins, an experienced golfer who will be making her freshman debut when the Lady Bears tee up for the first time on Aug. 29 at Pilot Knob Country Club.
“I’m hoping we can fit her into the lineup, because she is a good golfer,” Phillips said.
The Lady Bears will go off as the preseason favorites for the three-peat, but East Surry, which beat Mount Airy in one of last season’s conference meets, will have something to say. So will South Stokes, which steps down from the 2A ranks and joins the Northwest Conference this fall.
“Coach (Kent) Mendenhall always does a great job down there, and he is highly respected and knowledgeable in the game,” said Phillips of the Lady Sauras. “He will always field a good team. So will Coach (Chad) Freeman at East Surry.
“We’re just look forward to competing this year and hopefully to repeat as conference champions. Once we do that, we can take it from there. But we have to win the conference first.”
Phillips said that she and her team will know better what to expect after the Aug. 29 non-conference showdown in Pilot Mountain. Along with the best teams in Surry County, some likely rivals at the regionals will be on hand as well.
“We’ll see what the area has to offer,” said Phillips. “Alleghany is coming. The Stokes teams and Forbush will be there too. We’re looking forward to it.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.