The Lady Warriors shot 153 to finish 11 strokes behind champion Milton and claim runner-up honors at the Class AAAAA state championship at Augusta’s West Lake Golf Club. And, nearly a week before the state meet, they won the program’s first region championship.
With the year at an end, Cherokee’s four lead golfers — Anna Higgins, Meredith Gray, Sydney VanAlstyne and Amanda Burton — had the opportunity to return home from the tournament with their parents. Instead, they went with a different yet familiar, idea.
“They said they wanted to drive back with me,” Cherokee coach Robin Roper said. “It’s been like that all season. Whenever we went to matches and tournaments, I drove. We left together and we came back together.
“But, this time, the season was over, and they still wanted to leave together. I think that was one of the biggest strengths about this group. They were definitely a team.”
Led by Roper and buoyed by the efforts of Higgins and Gray, Cherokee accomplished things no other Lady Warrior golf team had ever done. After seven years as the team’s coach, Roper stepped aside before the 2009 season due to personal reasons, but she returned this past year when encouraged by Higgins and Gray.
“I had a feeling that this team was going to be special,” said Roper, the 2012 Cherokee County Girls Golf Coach of the Year.
Roper inherited a team that had already made two straight state tournament appearances — and was in position for a third — and she made sure they didn’t miss a beat. The Lady Warriors went 12-2 in nine-hole matches, playing their strongest when it mattered most.
Cherokee rallied from a six-stroke deficit to shoot 155 and beat Walton by four strokes for the Region 5AAAAA championship. They shot even better at state, and they finished eight spots and 27 strokes better than they did in the 2011 state championship.
“This was a great group of girls led by Anna and Meredith’s leadership,” Roper said. “One of the differences for us, I think, was that we practiced every day. I think the consistency of going out and being on the course, whether it was the driving range or actually playing, helped all four girls.
“Early on, I felt like we could make it to state. I didn’t know if we had it in us to beat Walton, so (winning region) was a pleasant surprise. Once we got the scores (from around the state), and we saw where we stood, I felt like we had a chance at winning (state). Coming in second is just a little bit short. Milton played well, and we played as well as we could.”
Roper quickly defers credit for her coaching success to her players. She made sure the golfers were as prepared as they could be before competing, but she knew that the rest would be up to them on the various courses.
“I was surprised,” Roper said of winning the coaching award. “I thought coach (Casey) Gramling from Creekview would get it because of his record in the county, but me being coach of the year is because of Anna and Meredith and Amanda and Sydney. It wasn’t anything I did. I didn’t putt any. I don’t think I drove a single ball this year. It was just the girls, but I’ll take it. It’s a great honor.
“It was very gratifying to see this team perform at such a high level. These ladies won region, and they’re getting two banners in the gym, which has always been a goal. I’m proud. I told the girls I’m getting coach of the year because of what they did, not for anything I did. I’m going to miss this season and miss Anna and Meredith. It was a great season to look back on for the rest of my life.”