TAFT -- Three years ago, Lexi Keene knew more about being the lead in a play than she did having the lead in a golf tournament.
But times change, and Keene, a Stockdale freshman, can tell you all about both after she won the Central Section South Area championship by shooting a 3-over-par 75 on Monday at Mifflin-Buena Vista Golf Course.
"It feels great," Keene said. "I've put a lot of hard work in, and it's really nice to have it pay off like this."
Making matters sweeter for Keene was that her Mustangs won their second consecutive area title, shooting 442 to Liberty's 448 and reversing the Patriots' victory in the decisive Southwest Yosemite League tournament last week.
"Liberty had stepped up all year, and they have the depth that gives them an advantage," Stockdale coach Shannon Nieblas said. "But my (Nos. 1, 2 and 3) players really stepped up and shot well to give us a cushion."
Stockdale's No. 2 player, Jessica Park, shot 79 to finish second overall, and Allie Wilson added an 84. No other team came close to matching that kind of score at the top of their lineup.
It started with Keene, whose father, Jim, is the Stockdale athletic director and longtime boys golf coach. Despite that -- and even though the Keenes live on the golf course at Seven Oaks Country Club -- Lexi played sparingly for most of her youth, focusing instead on dancing.
"I was a dancer, and there just wasn't enough time to do both," said Keene, who landed the lead role in a production of The Nutcracker three years ago. "But I just decided golf was more rewarding to how much you worked. The more you worked, the better you got."
When she told Dad, he said he silently pumped his fist and then helped Lexi break the news to her mother. After that, Lexi took to the course for more than 30 hours a week, sometimes playing with older brother Bryce (The Californian's 2011 Boys Player of the Year) and chipping and putting in the backyard if the course was closed.
The result was a freshman season in which Keene led the SWYL with a 79 scoring average, plus a nice golden medal to hang around her neck Monday.
"Any freshman who plays any sport, you know they've got to be good, but you've also got to realize she's just a freshman," Nieblas said. "She's competing with juniors and seniors, and that's tough."
Bakersfield Christian, led by Julia Stewart's 83, shot 474 to win the Division II area title. The Eagles will advance to next Tuesday's Central Section team finals in Lemoore.
Joining the Mustangs and Eagles will be Liberty, which was nonetheless disappointed with Monday's round. Mallory Wells shot 82 to finish fourth overall, but no other Patriot shot better than 89.
"We didn't bring our 'A' game," Patriots coach Tony Mills said. "Last week, we played like we were the team to beat.
"You have to give credit where it's due, though. Stockdale stepped up today. Lexi Keene, Jessica Park and Allie Wilson, they all really raised their level of today. They won the match."
Bakersfield's Lauryn Maiocco finished third with an 81.
Stockdale, with a much more veteran team, won the section team title last year. This year, Clovis West is a heavy favorite. The Golden Eagles shot 387 to win the North Area meet in Madera on Monday.
The section individual tournament is Nov. 5 in Madera. The top 15 players from each area tournament qualify. From Buena Vista, those will be: Keene, Park, Maiocco, Wells, Stewart, Jamie Lopez of Cal City (84), Wilson, Vanessa Watkins of Highland (85), Janette Chan of East (86), Genna Edwards of BCHS (88), Brandi Borjon of Centennial (89), Payton Yee of BCHS (89), Tatelyn Alvarez of Liberty (89), Macey Mills of Liberty (91) and Amy Cooper of Centennial (91).
Leading the area will be a leading dancer-turned-championship golfer.
"I feel blessed to make it to Valley as a freshman," Keene said. "All I want is to put it together there and see what happens."