Nixon-Smiley’s Caitlin Sandoval didn’t think a hobby would turn into something that would help fund her post-high school education. But after two years of focused training, Sandoval achieved enough to get an offer and last week officially signed to play golf at Texas Lutheran University.
“I didn’t really expect to play golf at the next level,” she admitted, “I always just thought it would be something like a hobby of mine.”
Her natural ability as well as massive improvement from her under-classmen years to her last two years of school has proven that she’s capable of competing at the next level.
“Her skill level, especially for the amount of time the first two years that she actually put into it, she still had the ability to be successful,” Nixon-Smiley athletic director Carlton McKinney said. “These last two years though we had several conversations of, ‘you know, what’s your plan? Are you playing to have fun?’ She said, ‘well I’ll like to have the opportunity to go to college.’ I said, ‘well these little things you’re going to have to do, you got to set a plan,’ and that’s kind of what she did these last two years.”
Sandoval cited her junior year successes as the turning point for her. Starting off, golf was just something to past time.
“Turns out, I was something I was naturally good at,” she said.
Then in her junior year, the idea of wanting to play at college started to become realistic.
“I qualified for regionals for the first time,” Sandoval recalled. “I was kind of like, ‘well I know I’m playing with all these great golf players that are really good,’ and I was like, ‘well it’ll take a lot,’ and then this year I placed first in one of my tournaments, second in another one and second in district and I was like, ‘I’m actually not that bad.’”
Both Sandoval and McKinney believe the difference was her dedication to the game. Getting to the college level means even more time devoted to golf, which will only be a positive for the soon-to-be Nixon-Smiley grad.
“I think it’s something that once she gets at the college level where she can devote much more time to it, I think the sky’s the limit for her,” McKinney said. “I think she’s a girl that really wants to achieve some great things in this world and I think when those kids who are athletes in high school that have an opportunity to go beyond high school and participate in college as well as participate in athletics at the college level, it really enhances their learning and the experience at college. I’m happy for her, I’m anxious to see how it all works out for her.”
That dedication is something Sandoval wishes she did early on. When asked for advice for future graduates, Sandoval said athletes should invest time in a sport they love and to not worry about what school you attend.
“I would invest my time in a sport that I love and I wouldn’t think, just because we’re from a small town that nothing good comes out of it, because it can if you apply yourself to it,” she said.
McKinney hopes Sandoval can be looked upon as an example of what hard work can get you, especially among the Lady Mustangs athletic program. In recent history, there have been multiple athletes on the boys’ side that have had success at the high school level and even gone to play in college. But with Sandoval signing to play golf, the Mustangs athletic director believes she can be used as an example of achieving greatness in Nixon.
“We’ve been very fortunate on the guys’ side, we’ve had a few in the last few years and I think it’s catapulted the other athletes to see that it’s a possibility,” McKinney said. “I think in small schools, if you actually look at the true numbers, there’s not a lot of kids from small schools that get to advance beyond the high school years. To have it on the guys’ side and now to start having it on the girls’ side, starting with Caitlin, I think it lets the other girls know that, ‘man, I can do something beyond high school from an athletic standpoint, if I just apply myself and put forth the effort.’ That, for me, is extremely important because again we’re here to try to advance all of our athletes, not just the ones on the boys’ side. I’m extremely pleased she got the opportunity, that TLU extended the offer to her and that she accepted it. For our program, personally, I hope it catapults the other girls in the program to realize this is a very real possibility if they do the work, there is actually an opportunity beyond high school.”
In the classroom, Sandoval will be majoring in biology and ecology with a minor in chemistry.
“I want to be a wildlife rehabilitator,” she explained. “For example, if there’s an injured sloth, I would take it in, doctor it, and bring it back to health.”
When asked what animal she would be, Sandoval laughed and said “I’d be a chicken. I love chickens.”
“They just mind their business pecking at the ground, going about their day,” she added with a smile. “If I’m not 50 feeding my chickens at 5 a.m., then I’m not living. I love chickens.”
Texas Lutheran University is located in Seguin. The Bulldogs participate in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in all sports except football. H.C. Tran is the current head coach for both men’s and women’s golf.