GAINESVILLE -- Clay McDonald can pinpoint the exact moment that his girls golf program began its ascent.
"I was speaking to the parents and to the girls (who are now seniors) right after their seventh grade year, and I knew they were going to be committed to do what they needed to do to be the best they could be," McDonald said.
It is a commitment that Gainesville golf -- boys and girls -- lives and breathes and is a big part of why the Red Elephants are trampling just about every course in their path this spring.
The Gainesville girls are led by a trio of seniors that have taken the Lady Red Elephants back to the forefront of the sport, while the Gainesville boys are dominating like few teams in and sport around the state.
The Red Elephants are defending back-to-back state champions, have won six tournaments -- out of six played this season -- and recently broke a 35-year old team score record -- by 19 strokes -- firing a 270.
(NOTE: To watch a video feature with both teams, simply click "play" in the box to the right.)
And like McDonald has seen with his players, Gainesville boys coach Bryson Worley knows his charges are always crafting their game.
"They stay out here (on the course) all the time," Worley said. "There's days I'm telling them to get off the golf course. They've worked hard on being smart and doing the right things. A lot of them have just matured physically, have gotten older and played some top level golf, so they've seen some of the best golf in the nation. So they know what it takes. A lot of it is just maturity."
Both teams are certainly playing like veterans. And make no mistake, there is also plenty of talent to go around -- and it is far from raw.
Boys standouts (in alphabetical order) Jackson Bishop, Lawson King, Grant Lasseter, Spencer Ralston and Nathan Williams are each capable of putting up low medalist rounds on any given day and in fact have traded those honors a number of times this season -- including a nine-under 63 for Ralston (a sophomore) on March 8.
"It's amazing. It's so exciting to know that any given day any one us can play well and carry the team on their back," said King.
The load is far from heavy, however, as Gainesville's golfers are also consistent up and down the line-up often, each usually shooting in the 70s. And while much was expected of a squad that returned all but one of its top six from a year ago, the Red Elephants are threatening to outstrip even those lofty anticipations.
And you would never know it by the casual and laid-back demeanors on display within the team -- except for when it comes time to tee it off.
"Honestly it's getting pretty competitive within the team, even during a tournament," Lasseter said, smiling. "It's like, 'there's so and so over there, he's at four-under; I'm at two, I've got to get to four.' It's gotten to that point, so it's getting pretty competitive."
That competition and drive for success -- dashed with ability -- is a potent mixture.
"From a scoring standpoint they're obviously pretty good," Worley said. "I can't compare teams. They're all different. This one's really laid back, really close. Not that any of them haven't been. It's just a quiet confidence. It's not an arrogance. They're really comfortable being who they are, and it's just fun to watch. They work hard, they're dedicated; they know when to work hard, they know when to play, and it's a blessing to coach a group of guys like this."
It is sentiment shared by McDonald and the girls program that he leads.
"Knowing what they were like in ninth grade and seeing how much they've grown and what they know now and seeing them on the course be able to go around a round of golf and manage the course and manage the game is really special to me," McDonald said of a three-person senior class in Meg Callahan, Madeline Harr and Morgan Reece, who, along with underclassman Ashleigh Bishop, have won three tournaments so far this season and have their sites set on a big finish.
"I definitely think that we have the talent and ability to make it to state and definitely place in state," Reece said. "I just think it's going to take all three of us, including our number four player to believe that we can, and we need to start working toward that now. We can't really wait till the last minute. I believe that if we buckle down and work at our weaknesses, we're going to rise to the top when we get to the end."
After winning a Class AAA title as sophomores, the trio knows what it takes to do just that -- though McDonald says their success goes far beyond just the victories.
"Winning a state championship in 2012 was very, very special, possibly even ahead of schedule," McDonald said. "And it's easy just to say, well you won one you're 10th grade year, now look at what you're going to do. I remind them all the time that other teams want to win just as badly as we do. And you just have to keep doing what you know you're supposed to do to be the best you can be. You can't control what anyone else does. You prepare every day, every week, show up at each tournament trying to learn from the experiences you had before. I hope they don't measure it just on state championships and rings. While that's nice and great, and it's one of the proudest moments of my life, that 2012 season, I personally don't believe that's the only thing you measure success by."
Their success -- much like their boys counterparts -- can also be measured by the vitality of their middle school and junior varsity programs, which are rude health.
"The guys program, which is much older than ours is certainly growing as well. You even see and hear people outside of maybe even Gainesville say, 'your program is special, and we'd like to see what it's all about.' And that's flattering to see that happening," McDonald said. "We're just trying to make sure we keep our feeder program going in the middle school and JV and keep this ball rolling that these girls have built over the years, along with the seniors and the underclassmen before them."
Right now that ball is rolling -- and soaring off the tee -- in very much the right direction.