Sports preview: High school golfers tee off for fall season
By the time most fall sports teams face their first game day, county golfers are already deep into their schedule. With matches having begun Monday, the Herald-Progress looks at the prospects of the student-athletes finishing their summer representing their schools on the links.
The Patriots lost just one golfer to graduation, Dean Thomas, returning the likes of top starter Zack Napier and Isaac Waggoner. Jackson Clarke, Clay Thomas, Andrea Dill and Shea Burch are also expected to contribute.
“Everyone must play within their own ability and continue to work hard improving their weaknesses,” Patriots head coach Dave Hudak said.
In spite of Patrick Henry’s opening match loss to Orange Tuesday at Hanover Country Club, 323-329, there were many bright spots, both in scoring and in individual effort.
Napier struggled on the sixth, built to be a constant uphill battle with the main putting surface some 10 feet above the end of the fairway. It took Napier three times to get on, and stay on, the green. He still fought through his round to shoot the low score for the Patriots with a 76. For Napier, he was just happy to be on the course.
“I’ve been looking forward to the high school golf season for a long time, so it was just good to get out and just play 18 [holes],” Napier noted.
Other scores Tuesday for Patrick Henry were Waggoner (82), Clarke (87), and Dill, the fifth-ranked player shooting an 84. Jared McGhee led Orange with medalist score of 73. The Patriots face their old Colonial District foes in a tournament Monday morning at The Hollows.
Hanover freshman Ward Wilkinson looks to finish off the seventh hole at Hanover Country Club. Wilkinson is the top seed for the Hawks in 2013, and has the advantage that HCC is his home course. Wilkinson was medalist in Tuesday’s win over Thomas Dale, shooting a 34.
The Hawks opened their season Monday at the Lake Chesdin Invitational, placing sixth in team scoring at 363. For head coach Chris Pace, it’s all about finding the right combination, giving his players opportunities to improve, and scouting his new rivals in Conference 20. Midlothian, Monacan, and Glen Allen were all at Lake Chesdin Monday; Hanover beat two of them.
“We want to play Conference 20 teams,” Pace said enthusiastically. “I didn’t get as many as I’d like. We’re playing Tucker Thursday and the reason of doing that is we want to see what they’ve got.”
Hanover puts youth at the top of the rotation with freshman Ward Wilkinson in the top slot. He struggled Monday with a 90, but shot a 34 for medalist honors in Hanover’s 160-171 win over Thomas Dale Tuesday at Hanover Country Club. Wilkinson lives at the course, leaving him feeling comfortable when matches are, literally, in his back yard.
“I’m pushing myself to beat my previous scores when I go out,” Wilkinson said. “Being a freshman, it’s a little more pressure because it’s your first year. You have to deal with it.”
Helping Wilkinson shoulder the load are Matt Alexander, a three-year starter who’s a threat for games in the 30s in nine-hole matches, top Hawks tennis player Danny Polk, who’s taking his competitive nature from the tennis court to the golf course, and Evan Wright, who also plays varsity soccer. Pace hopes athleticism coupled with practice will mold his team. A possible player for the sixth seed? Softball player Lacey Sullivan.
Coach Pace projected Atlee as a team to beat in 2013. They began play at Lake Chesdin Monday with a team score of 328, fourth overall and 14 strokes behind victorious Cosby. Tons of experience return for the Raiders, even with three players gone to graduation. What’s more dangerous for future opponents is their depth in low scoring ability.
“We must build on last year’s momentum and develop our young players,” said Raiders head coach Jamie Edwards. “Our veterans have gotten bigger and stronger and talent level has increased.”
Leading the way are juniors Garrett Palmer and Levi Brizendine and senior Phillip Senning. Palmer was the low scorer at Monday’s tournament with a 77. Other juniors to be heard from include Stephen Hurd, Matthew Sweeney and Arianna Martin.
The Raiders are busy in this opening week, as they faced Hanover, Lee-Davis and Glen Allen Wednesday at Hunting Hawk, and battle Monacan, Thomas Dale, and new Conference 11 foe Douglas Freeman Thursday afternoon at Stonehenge. Edwards is well aware of Atlee’s new “conference” home and is strategizing to that end.
“Our biggest challenge will be facing the new playoff system with Mills Godwin and Deep Run as potential competitors,” Edwards said.
Mills Godwin is considered the best team in Central Virginia going into the season.
The Confederates, too, are settling in this week to life in Conference 11, seeing familiar foes like Atlee, Henrico, Varina and Highland Springs, and new ones like Godwin, Deep Run, Douglas Freeman and Hermitage.
Austin Diehr trades basketball sneakers for golf shoes in his quest to lead Lee-Davis to success this season. Joining him are Josh Nuckols, Gabby Nunez, Andrew Naumann, Russell Jenkins, and, from the baseball team, Hayden Keener.
Lee-Davis won the final Capital District Tournament title last year, but must overcome the graduation of several players to stay competitive in a Conference 11 packed with talent. But the Confederates hold a strong home course advantage when they are at home at Queensfield and always seem to be strong, replacing talent with talent.
After playing at Hunting Hawk Wednesday (after presstime), the Confederates welcomed Glen Allen, Highland Springs and Varina to Queensfield Aug. 15. They’ll travel to Jordan Point to face Prince George Monday afternoon.
There’s no doubt with new homes, new opponents and new playoffs, the 2013 golf season will be like no other and all four teams are ready to take advantage.