They all have gold medals to prove they were there. Alanna McVay, Pam Bechtelheimer and Betsy Pedersen all contributed to the Hernando girls golf team winning its first state title. Problem was, no one could stop talking about their teammates long enough to realize it.
Kelly Lagedrost, Chrissy Atchison and Arleen Marrero anchored the 1997 team as it stomped through the regular season and earned Hernando its fourth trip to state. The three seniors shared the links, the emotions and memories with the then sophomores. But after graduation, it seemed the only thing not attached to the next generation was the recognition.
"People came up to me and said, "You guys really aren't going to be that good 'cause you don't have Kelly and Chrissy, right?' " Pedersen said.
The word spread like wild fire about how the Leopards would come into this season expecting to rebuild. The players heard the comments so much, even they started to believe it.
"I was really nervous," Pedersen said. "I didn't know what would come out of this season."
Rumors of the Leopards' demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Leopards have reproduced much of last season by going 18-1 and gaining confidence with each win. And with four players back from last year's state championship squad, Hernando looks on pace to retrace its front-runner steps. That chase begins Wednesday in the Class 4A, District 8 meet at Bella Vista.
Hernando coach T.V. Chambers knew this would be a season of adjustments. So before it began, he sat down with his top three and senior Cindy Arick. The goal was to get them to forget what they heard and prove to themselves they wouldn't fold after such a successful season.
"I knew the talent was there," Chambers said. "It was having them realize they could do it. I think they surprised a lot of people."
If the 18-1 record wasn't enough, the Leopards earned their fourth straight Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championship Monday.
Chambers had lectured them about the kind of practice they would have to endure over the summer to take strokes off their games. The four spent much of the off-season playing the usual courses and going to the driving range with one goal in mind: return to state.
"Me and Pam talk about it a lot; we can go back to state if we play up to our abilities," Pedersen said.
The team has shown the talent of last year's squad in bursts, Chambers said. More than once this year, his players' top four scores _ the ones counted toward the overall score _ were as low or lower than those last year's team shot to win state. Now the question is, do the players think they can shoot those scores from this point on?
"Oh yeah, we can," McVay said. "It just depends on how much work we want to put into it." She, for one, will be giving it "everything I've got."
McVay nearly ran away with the GCAC individual title last week, but missed a few opportunities on the back nine. She finished second, two shots behind Crystal River's Rebecca Twiner.
But at state last year, Hernando's top player, Lagedrost, missed the overall title but still helped her team finish first. It's Lagedrost's team mentality that McVay hopes to emulate.
"I've always looked up to Kelly; she's such a great golfer," McVay said. "I've always wanted to be where she is."
One person who could help the Leopards reach that goal is Bechtelheimer, who holds the team's lowest average for the season of 44 for nine holes.
Pedersen has combined her average of 45 with the improved talents of Arick, who Chambers said has "improved 100 percent" from last season, to help make for a consistent group.
"We came back and showed 'em. That's exactly what Kelly, Chrissy and Arleen wanted," Pedersen said. "We want to go back (to state) just to say we can go back and we didn't need (them) to get there. We want it bad."