CARY — CARY -- Every year, Sam Andrews gets the same questions about one of his teammates.
As a senior on Cary Academy's golf team, he has watched the opposing team's top golfers go through the same routine once they realize who they have been paired with from the Chargers.
"It's all in their faces," he said. "You'll see it when she tees off one or two in that first group. They're like 'What? A girl No. 1?' Then she puts up scores that beat them."
Senior Taelor Rubin is Cary Academy's top seed and only female player. She is never asked directly how she can play at such a high level when having to play from the boys' tees, but she usually answers it with her first shot.
"I think it's more intimidating for boys playing with her than it is for her playing with the boys," Cary Academy coach Greg Warren said. "Obviously, boys don't want to be beat by a girl, but then they see her hit and they say, 'Whoa, we've got our work cut out for us today.' "
The N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association does not offer girls golf as a sanctioned sport, so a girl playing for a boys golf team isn't new. But few girls qualify for the state tournament.
Rubin nearly qualified last year and has proven herself to be one of the state's top female golfers, winning the Twin States Junior Girls Golf Tournament this summer. She has signed to play at the University of Mississippi next year on an athletic scholarship.
It didn't used to be the opponents who were intimidated.
Being the one of the few girls in a boys sport, Rubin couldn't help but feel uncomfortable, especially when she started as an eighth-grader.
"When I first started, I was really intimidated, but I had one of the players who was a senior when I was in eighth grade take me under his wing," Rubin said. "He was always the big brother to everyone, so I just learned from him and started to be like that."
Rubin herself is paying that back, helping tutor younger Chargers players such as seventh-grader Doc Redman and sophomore John Scott.
As a team co-captain, she has taken the leadership role - whether that's acknowledging younger players in the hallway at school to make them feel more welcomed or offering tips and new drills she has learned in her individual lessons.
"She's a really good person. She's always friendly. She never puts your game down. If you're playing bad, she's going to try to help you get better," Andrews said. "She obviously knows a lot about the game, so she's going to help you in every way possible."
Even though golf is an individual sport, Rubin wanted Cary Academy as a team to make it to this year's NCISAA state playoffs. Her school coach said she has led the way with her work ethic. Rubin qualified, but her team did not.
"From the time she came in and joined the team as an eighth-grader, she was the first one out there, the last one to leave. On days off, she's out here at 10, 11 o'clock in the morning working on her swing, even when we have practice later," Warren said. "In the earlier years, she was going to away tournaments on the weekends - so she was practicing with us during the week and then going and playing more.
"You don't find that commitment from everyone else on the team or any other team, really. That's a rare thing, to see someone in high school have that mentality day in and day out."
Rubin has had to make one large adjustment while playing with her school team, and that's playing from the farthest tee box.
It's arguably the biggest difference for any girl who plays for an NCISAA school.
"We do have some girls come to the preseason meeting who have played golf before," Warren said. "I warn them that you are a girl playing from the guys' tees, so already you're at a disadvantage."
Rubin has been in the top three of her team in each of the past three years and has a 41.3 stroke average per nine holes, second behind only Redman on the team.
"She's not really giving up anything. When she came out as an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader, you could kind of see that she was lacking a little distance," Warren said. "She would hit woods more often ... where some guys might be hitting a 5- or 6-iron.
"But just by working on her technique, you can see that she's changed her game."
When Rubin plays for the Mississippi women's team in college, she'll be playing from those same tees.
The adjustment of learning to play at these distances now will pay off when she's competing in the Southeastern Conference.
"I want to compete as a freshman, but I know it'll be hard because we have a lot of older girls on the team," she said. "I think I'll be able to come in there and give them a run for their money."
Rubin knows she can hang with the boys, even from their tees.
That is no longer an issue.
"No one holds back or treats her differently because she's a girl," Warren said. "They treat her the same as they would any golfer that has that skill.
"It doesn't really change the dynamic of our golf team at all."
Still, there are some areas where her gender makes a difference.
Obviously, she had to stay in a separate room from the rest of the team that went to the Palmetto High School Golf Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in late April. She had the team's second-lowest score as the Chargers finished sixth.
Gender also subjects Rubin to a different kind of good-natured ribbing. Warren says Rubin is like a sister to her teammates.
"Teammates definitely joke around with me about being the only girl," Rubin said. "Like if I'm playing with a certain guy, they'll ask me, 'Oh, do you think he's cute?'"
She's the girl who has become a leader among the boys.
And as Rubin's high school career blossomed, Andrews is answering fewer questions about her.
"Everyone knows who she is now," he said.
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