PORTERVILLE — Every stroke mattered on Monday.
As the final scores were written on the board, all the Lemoore girls could do was watch and wait. They were already ahead of three other schools with their score of 485 at River Island Country Club.
Yosemite was the only team left without a score. As it went up, there was suspense. The first number was a ‘4’. Next to it, an ‘8’. The final number would decide the CIF Central Section Division II champion.
It was a ‘7’. A 487 — and Lemoore had its championship.
The two-stroke margin not only gave the Tigers their title, but it earned them their third Division II championship in a row. The three-peat was complete and some would say a dynasty as well.
Shock turned to disbelief, which turned to tears and hugs. The Lemoore girls had cemented their legacy with a tough and grueling 18 holes on the par 72 course.
And for the first time all season, Lemoore coach Kevin Roberts was speechless. There was no more talk of getting better or how to take strokes off the girls’ game. No more wondering how to stay mentally focused or what was next. Just a speechless Roberts standing on the 18th green with tears welling up in his eyes, whose inability to find words spoke volumes more than any of his words during the season.
“We didn’t have anybody finish in the top 12 overall, but you know what, our team put it together and we had five solid scores and that to me is what team is all about,” Roberts said.
Before the match, Roberts challenged the girls to play for one another and for Lemoore High School.
The day started with 11 schools — six Division I and five Division II — and 88 girls, including 22 individuals. It was a cool 70 degrees at the 11 a.m. tee time with little wind all day.
The ebbs and flows of the 18 holes were anything but calm on Monday. Lemoore senior Maddie Alvarez, who shot a team- and season-low 89, started with a 50 on the front nine. But she rebounded to shoot a personal best 39 on the back nine.
Alvarez, who’s been part of all three championship teams, felt that she didn’t contribute as much her first two years since she was always further down in the team’s ladder. It’s a safe bet to say she contributed in a big way by posting her first sub-90 score of the season and ending her senior campaign with another title.
“To shoot  here, I feel super ecstatic,” Alvarez said. “Having a personal best on the hardest course that I’ve ever played at, that was just amazing for me. I don’t know else to put it.”
But as well as Alvarez played, it was a complete team effort from all six girls. Maggie Benn, Lemoore’s No. 1 golfer, had been struggling recently, but turned in a solid 99 to help her team out one last time.
“I’ve gotten so close to my team and we played a really difficult course today and to come out, my senior year, with Valley, another ring, I can’t even describe it,” a tearful Benn said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Benn said it was bittersweet with this being her last match, but was happy that the team could finish it exactly as they wanted to.
“We got it by two strokes,” Benn said. “The strokes matter.”
Jennifer Alaniz, the third graduating senior and also three-time champion, finished with a 104 and admitted to struggling with her grip on the day, but she hung in and never let a hole get away from her.
“We worked really, really hard to get to this point,” Alaniz said. “Honestly, our coached pushed us so much that we probably wouldn’t be here without him.”
The three seniors leave behind a big hole to fill in not only scoring, but leadership as well. Roberts said their work ethic and the tone they set for the younger players will be sorely missed.
Going down the ladder Ashley Alaniz shot an excellent 93, Victoria Sheldon shot a 100 and Makenzie Taylor shot a non-qualifying 143.
Making the 485 even more impressive was the fact that this was the first time Lemoore had played River Island this season. The Tigers usually play the course at least once a year, but weren’t able to play it this season. The only interaction they had with the course was a practice round last Wednesday.
It was also the second year in a row Lemoore bested Yosemite for the Division II title. They defeated Yosemite by 13 strokes last year.
Roberts, in his third year at the helm with Lemoore, doesn’t know how to lose.
“In my wildest dreams whenever I took over this program three years ago, three years in a row to win a Valley championship was the farthest thing from my mind,” Roberts said. “Now I can say it’s true and it’s surreal.”
Lemoore didn’t finish in the top two overall and had no individual top 12 finishers, so they won’t advance to the Southern California Regionals and their season is officially over. But it’s not a bad way to end your season when you can call yourself a champion.
For now, the girls have a couple immediate plans and they don’t involve golf. They involve a team BBQ and trip to Disneyland, like all champions take. Benn also jokingly added they plan to give a big hug to coach Roberts since he’s not a fan of hugs.
“Coming out at the beginning of the year, I didn’t know where we were going to be,” Roberts said. “I knew we had some good players, but to say that we were going to come away with the Valley championship, I couldn’t tell you that. But they worked hard from August until now and I couldn’t be happier for them.”