Lady Falcons dominated shortened golf season

The Los Fresnos girls varsity golf team poses for a picture after the RGVGCA 6A Regional Preview Invitational played in San Antonio Feb. 28-29. The Lady Falcons were the top golf program in the Rio Grande Valley in the season shortened due to COVID-19. Courtesy:Luis Gonzalez

The Los Fresnos girls golf program was chasing history when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a sudden stop to its dominant season.

The Lady Falcons were the only girls or boys program in the Rio Grande Valley to have two teams ranked in the top 10 for team averages and boasted multiple players ranked in the top 25 for individual scores. Coach Luis Gonzalez saw a state tournament berth in the cards and said it was disappointing that they couldn’t see their hard work come to fruition.

“We were state competitive and we were finishing really strong, they were playing at the best of their level, which would have put us at least advancing to the state tournament,” Gonzalez said. “No 6A team has done that, boys or girls, in the Valley, so that would’ve been a huge accomplishment and something we were looking forward to.”

Los Fresnos A was the best team in the Valley with a 331.07 group average through seven events, and Los Fresnos B was ranked sixth with a 375.17 average. The Lady Falcons had three girls in the top 10 for their individual scoring averages — senior Vanessa Campos (2), junior Natali Barrera (7) and sophomore Allison McGinnis (9) — which led all programs. Sophomore Gabriana Garrido, senior Kasandra Garcia and junior Jianna Granado earned spots in the top 25.

The depth of Los Fresnos’ varsity program is a valuable asset, but also presents a challenge for Gonzalez. He called the volume of talent a good problem to have, because while it makes roster decisions difficult, it also keeps practices competitive and helps each player progress at a fast rate.

“I usually don’t make a decision until the morning of a tournament on how I’m going to roster them, that way I give myself all week to look at them. That morning, I come out of the clubhouse and the girls are ready to receive whatever scorecard I give them,” Gonzalez said. “However the chips fall, these girls are mature enough to understand. It’s not easy when you have a second team that’s as strong as any varsity team in the Valley.”

Campos, the top Lady Falcons golfer, signed her letter of intent to compete for Western Carolina University in March and was one of the most dominant players from the Valley. She won all four RGV tournaments in which she played and shot the most below-par rounds of all local golfers.

One of Campos’ biggest competitors was her young teammate, McGinnis. The sophomore made a quick rise to the top after picking up golf on a whim the summer before her freshman year. McGinnis traded her softball bat for golf clubs and devoted her past two summers, like she’ll do again this year, to improving her scores.

McGinnis ascended to the first team this season after anchoring the second team last year and earned five top 10 finishes. Gonzalez is depending on her to fill in a leadership role next season and show the underclassmen how to develop quickly into consistent golfers.

“The love and support from my team, my coach and my family, that really helps me a lot. It’s the wins and the shots that you think you can do and then you do them, that’s what gives me the confidence and makes me want to try harder for myself and for the team,” McGinnis said. “The freshmen this year that came in, I already have some of them contacting me … I think it’s so great that they’re looking up to me. I feel like I grew into the leadership role without even knowing it.”

A senior who epitomized the definition of a student-athlete for the Lady Falcons was Alexandra Montes. She is Los Fresnos’ 2020 salutatorian, and though she didn’t always have golf class because of a schedule loaded with Advanced Placement courses, Montes notched the 26th-best individual average in the Valley.

Montes said her leadership style focused on motivating her young teammates and that she acted like an academic advisor. She was a dependable score on the second team and earned three top 10 finishes.

Montes’ academics and work ethic earned her acceptance letters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rice University and Brown University. She will be majoring in chemistry at MIT in the fall and is thinking about becoming a pediatrician.

“Golf is pretty tough, but it’s a beautiful game and it’s a wonderful way that I’ve been able to relax after class,” Montes said. “It’s helped me to grow in knowing that whatever happens I need to calm down, breathe and re-evaluate what’s going on. I love the team, the girls, we’ve become a family. It was amazing to be a part of them and to be able to see everyone grow in the program with me.”

The departing seniors have bright futures ahead of them, and so does the program they’re leaving behind. There’s a plethora of young talent Gonzalez is excited to develop and a community supporting all their endeavors.

Gonzalez said the program funds 100 percent of its trips, which can cost up to $3,000 when they play out of area. He said the golf booster club works hard to find sponsorships that and local businesses in Los Fresnos contribute financially to “a full community effort that has helped the program reach the levels it’s achieved.”

The Lady Falcons have logged many hours to make the program respected across South Texas, and this year exemplified the golfers’ potential. Though it’s hard not to wonder what could have been, the Los Fresnos golfers are already looking ahead to continue building to new heights.

“Our goal was to make it to state and we were so close, but we still have that same goal for next year because we have the capability,” McGinnis said. “Coach Gonzalez tells us all the time we can do it, and I really feel like we’re going to do it this year. I think all the girls are going to come together, and we’re going to do it for our team, for ourselves, for our coach.”