For six years, Tampa Prep's girls golf team had been a solid program trying to get back to the state tournament.
All the Terrapins needed was a talent infusion from a pair of polar opposites.
Tampa Prep will head to Harbor Hills Country Club in Lady Lake today for the two-day Class A state tournament thanks in large part to its towering senior move-in, Olivia Kresic, and its slight sixth-grade standout, Lilly Berry. The two newcomers provided the lowest scores last week to secure the Terrapins' Class A, Region 5 championship.
"The excitement was just overwhelming," Kresic said of the region title. "There were tears of happiness, jumps for joy. It was crazy."
In her only year at Tampa Prep since moving from Michigan, Kresic has helped boost Tampa Prep back to state for the first time since it finished eighth in 2006.
She had her team's low rounds during the regular season in matches against Berkeley Prep and Indian Rocks Christian. She shot a 90 — third on the team — at the Class A, District 15 tournament, and her 92 at regionals was second best on the team.
As importantly, she's provided leadership on a team with only one other upperclassman, senior Symone Hutchinson.
"It helps those younger girls move along," Terrapins coach Richard Veghte said.
And that includes Berry, the youngest Terrapin.
The 11-year-old has played golf for more than half of her life. Veghte said she strikes the ball well, which helped her lead the team with 82 at the district tournament and 86 at regionals.
"She's more mature than her age and her grade," Veghte said. "She's been playing competitive golf for quite a while, and she's used to the competitive environment. For her to come out and play in a tourney like (regionals) is just kind of another walk in the park for her."
Although Berry is still adjusting to the pressure of playing for a team, her experience at junior tournaments has helped her stay calm on high school golf's biggest stages so far.
She can get advice from her friend Latanna Stone, the Valrico native who qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur last year at age 10. And she's already played in top events, including this summer's U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst.
"I guess I'm kind of used to it by now," Berry said.
Both Kresic and Berry have been instrumental to the team's success by bolstering the team's depth and providing a five-player lineup that's more reliable than in previous seasons.
At last year's district tournament, no Terrapin shot better than 106. This year, only one finished with a higher score than that. Sophomores Katie Hochhausler and Morgan Peterson both shaved 22 strokes from last year's district result to this year's event.
At the region tournament, no Tampa Prep girls finished in the top seven as individuals, but the top four all shot at least 113. So with no superstars but no weak links, Tampa Prep enters with legitimate hopes of cracking the top 10.
"It's really a reward for them and their hard work this season, getting a chance to go," Veghte said. "We've got a good group of girls, and they're pretty consistent in their play."
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.