Last year, the Christian Heritage School boys golf team had a goal to merely make the state tournament. This year, the Lions wanted to win it.
The Lions took home the Georgia High School Association Class A-Private team trophy on May 21 at Green Island Country Club in Columbus, signaling to the competition that they belonged amongst the best. Possibly more important than that was proving to themselves they were capable of making their objective come true.
"A lot of people knew that we were good, but it was about when we were going to put it all together," senior Will Hooper said. "To have two solid rounds when it meant the most really felt like we did something."
The win also marked the first state championship for the school since the Lions joined the GHSA in 2012. Coach Chad Jordan, who is also the school's athletics director, said the win was certainly one for the record book.
"We have been competitive in the GHSA since we've joined, it's been good," he said. "It's not really anything we ever thought about until it happened, but it truly is awesome. I think the work they have put in and the dedication the players had just came to fruition in this last tournament."
After the tournament's first of two rounds on May 20, Christian Heritage sat one shot back from the leader Brookstone at 296 (+12). The Lions improved their score by seven strokes, shooting their best round of the season on the second day to finish with a combined score of 585 (+17), bettering Brookstone by two strokes at 587 (+19).
While there is some room for error by counting the top four scores from the six-man team, each one of the Lions agreed it took something special to be playing their best golf collectively at the end of the season. Christian Heritage took second at the Area 4 tournament and continued to practice every chance they got over the next three weeks.
"I really think we were peaking at the right time," senior Hardin Chambless said. "It's definitely a good feeling because there isn't any other way I'd want to go out than to win a state championship."
Looking back on just a year ago, Christian Heritage skimmed by to qualify for the state tournament where it finished ninth out of 12 teams. With the combination of two senior leaders and a budding group of upcoming sophomores, chances looked much better this year to finish higher.
Heading into this year's final tournament, the team adopted a new motto to keep their spirits as high as possible.
"Full send," Jordan said. "That's (golf team member) Jack's (Stafford) thing. He has a such a great attitude and he's always messing around saying things are going to be full send — meaning he's just going to go for it.
"Heading into the tournament, I told them all this is state — it's the green light, full send on every hole. If you can get it, just go for it because what do we have to lose?"
Stafford, who has toggled with Chambless this season as the team's No. 1 player, finished the state tournament tied for fifth individually to lead the Lions with an even score of 142 for the two days. Mason Cady finished tied for 10th with a 145 (+3) and Chambless finished tied for 12th at 147 (+5). Hooper finished with a score of 153 (+11), Tucker Jordan finished at 158 (+16) and Andrew Jenkins had a score of 163 (+21).
Even for Jordan, his team seemed to be the underdog all along.
"I don't think anyone expected Christian Heritage to go in there and even be a factor in the state tournament," he said. "Last year we were just happy to make it, but this year I knew that they could do it and were good enough to win."
It was his belief that the golfers said was the main reason they kept their faith.
"I think winning was really emotional because at our banquet before state, dad talked about how we could go win it," said Tucker Jordan, Chad Jordan's son. "I think that I can speak on behalf of everyone that we didn't fully believe that was possible. After day one when we were one stroke back, I think it kind of sunk in we had the potential."
Chambless was the last Lion to finish the course at Green Island, admitting he had no idea where he stood when he approached the 18th green. With his teammates watching, Chambless nailed his par putt but the final results were still undetermined.
"I think it was important to us just to keep playing, and not worry about what everyone else in our group was doing," he said. "When I hit my second shot on the green I had a big reaction and everyone was clapping. I knew it had to be close."
Of course, it was good news.