High School Golf Outlook

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Following a five-year absence, the Clarke County golf team has qualified for region tournament play each of the last two years.

As evidenced by junior Zach Koontz’s comments on Wednesday at the Curly Licklider Invitational on Wednesday, the Eagles are determined to take the next step

“We’re two practices in, and this is our third day up and running, and that’s been the conversation for the last three days — ‘We can make it to the state championship,’” said Clarke coach Jessica Zimmerman on Wednesday, echoing Koontz’s goal of making it to the state tournament. “We’re talking about how hard we need to work to get there. That’s our goal this season, for sure. We got one [golfer] there [last year], now we want to get the whole team there.”

Clarke County certainly has reason to believe that it has a chance.

For starters, the Eagles return four of their top six golfers from last year, including two who were selected to The Winchester Star’s seven-player all-area golf team.

That pair is junior Raul Viza-Fernandez (stroke average of 81.7), the area’s only golfer to qualify for state tournament play last year, and junior Brandon Scheib (83.7).

Also back is Koontz. Zimmerman said he’s improved dramatically, and he’s off to a strong start after shooting a 75 at the Licklider, the best score among the five area high schools.

Junior Dylan Vess is the fourth returner. He closed the 2016 season with what Zimmerman said was his best round of the year with an 84 at the region tournament. His first round of the 2017 season was even better with an 82 at the Licklider.

The Eagles will have to win their region (Class 2, Region B) if they want to compete in the state tournament this year.

In the new-look Virginia High School League alignment — which no longer features conferences — each classification now features four regions instead of two.

In this system, the majority of sports are expanding the number of team qualifiers for state competition. But golf will continue to have only four state qualifying teams, which means only each region champion will advance. (Last year, each classification had two regions, and the top two teams advanced to states from each region.)

VHSL assistant director for athletics Kelley Haney said the reason why the organization isn’t expanding the number of team state qualifiers is because it only uses three state locations for golf, and it wanted to keep the number of competing golfers similar to the previous format. (Class 5 and 6 will be grouped together, Class 3 and 4 will play at Glenrochie Country Club in Abington and Class 1 and 2 will play at Heritage Oaks Golf Course in Harrisonburg.)

Clarke County took fourth at last year’s 2A East Region golf tournament, and two of the teams that finished ahead of them are still in their region — East Rockingham and R.E. Lee.

But the Licklider was an early sign of Clarke County’s improvement. If only the top four scores had been used, the Eagles’ 317 would have been better than all but three teams (all Class 4) in the 20-school field. Clarke’s top four shot a 328 at last year’s Licklider.

In addition, Clarke County’s top four shot 51 strokes better than Central, the school that won the Bull Run District last year. If one school can win it outright, the Bull Run District regular season champion will get a region berth (each of the five schools will play each other twice in dual matches to determine this), as well as the non-regular season champion that fares best at the district tournament (Sept. 25 at the Bryce Resort in Basye).

With 13 schools (seven in Class 4, six in Class 3), the Northwestern District will have a dramatically different look this year. For postseason purposes, Handley, James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando only have to worry about their Class 4 competition, which is Fauquier, Liberty and Kettle Run.

Defending district champion Sherando lost four-time Winchester Star Golfer of the Year and 2014 Group 4A state champion Brett Loy as well as two other Star all-area golfers in Josh Bianco and Jonah Pearson, but the Warriors still might be the team to beat in the Northwestern.

All seven Class 4 district teams were at the Licklider, and Sherando tied with Fauquier for the best four-player score (331), with Kettle Run two strokes behind. Sophomore Caleb Dotson (79) had the third-best score among Class 4 Northwestern District golfers. Ryan Judy — Sherando’s No. 4 golfer from last year — led the Warriors at the Freedom tournament on Thursday with a nine-hole score of 40.

James Wood — led by Star all-area selection and 4A West Region qualifier Tyler Mounts (82.6 stroke average) — didn’t lose anyone from its top six, and the Colonels added a promising freshman in Carson Baker, who matched his junior brother Cameron with an 87 at the Licklider.

Handley is now under the leadership of 1988 James Wood graduate Troy Mezzatesta, who coached Loudoun Valley to the 2015 Group 4A state championship. The Judges are led by junior Maddi Neff (81 at the Licklider, fourth-best among Class 4 district golfers).

Millbrook lost three region qualifiers from last year’s team but returns the other three members of its top six at the district tournament from 2016. One of those returners, senior Nick Varcadipane, led the Pioneers at the Licklider with an 89.

The top three teams in the Northwestern District — which will hold its tournament on Sept. 26 at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club — will advance to the Class 4, Region C tournament.

Handley, James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando will each next compete in today’s Class 4 Northwestern mini that begins at 1 p.m. at SVGC, while Clarke County will next take the course on Tuesday against Bull Run District rival George Mason at 4 p.m. at Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal.

Sherando

Coach: Rob Wright, 17th year.

Last year: Conference 21 West tournament champs, Northwestern District regular season champs, tied for sixth in 4A West Region tournament.

Key losses: Brett Loy, Jonah Pearson, Josh Bianco.

Top returnees: Ryan Judy, Sr.; Caleb Dotson, So.; Brandon Nice, Jr.; Brady Pellath, Jr.

Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Parker Gregg, So. Ian Adams, So.

Wright’s outlook: “I think these guys feel comfortable because it’s kind of their team now. It’s always been Brett’s and Josh’s and Jonah’s, and now they feel they’re ready to step up. It’s a good group of kids to work with, and I think they’re going to develop and really play well.”

Millbrook

Coach: Mark Manspile, 5th year.

Last year: Third in Conference 21 West tournament.

Key losses: Andy Kim, Joe Eisenhauer, Tyler Holtsclaw.

Top returnees: Nick Varcadipane, Sr.; Connor Tavenner, Sr.; Evan Argiro, Sr.

Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Tyler McGuire, Fr.; David Allamong, So.; Austin Allamong, Fr.; Rebecca Collins, So.

Manspile’s outlook: “Nick and Evan are the only two who really have ton of match experience, and the young guys are going to look to them for leadership and how to handle things. We have a lot of young kids who are new to the game, but I can definitely see them improving throughout the year. Tyler McGuire is identical to his brother [Brian, a three-time all-area selection and 2016 graduate]. They swing the same, they look the same, they act the same. There’s a lot of potential there.”

Handley

Coach: Troy Mezzatesta, 1st year.

Last year: Fifth in Conference 21 West tournament.

 

Key losses: Kyle Kremer.

Top returnees: Maddi Neff, Jr.; Cody Williams, So.; Gregg Burton, Sr.; Brennan Smith, So.

Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Andrew McIntyre, Sr.; Catherine Burton, Jr.

Mezzatesta’s outlook: “This team has a huge upside, and a little bit of confidence would go a long way with them. We just need to be 100 percent committed to every shot. They need to trust in the process and believe that every week they’re going to get better. Madi has the game to shoot 76, 77 on any given day if she puts it all together. I wouldn’t rule this team out [for a region berth] if they continue to work as hard as they’ve been working.”

James Wood

Coach: David Oates, 5th year.

Last year: Sixth in Conference 21 West tournament.

Key losses: None mentioned.

Top returnees: Tyler Mounts, Sr.; Ethan Russell, So.; Jackson Lynch, So.; Ben Ondeck, So.; Logan Harper, Sr.; John Greene, Jr.; Cameron Baker, Jr.

Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Carson Baker, Fr.

Oates’ outlook: “[Mounts] has gotten a lot better. The thing with him this year is consistency. We don’t want him to shoot 75 in one match, then shoot 85 the next match. In my five years of coaching, [Carson Baker] is probably the best freshman I’ve had who’s come into our program. He’s a really good athlete.”

Clarke County

Coach: Jessica Zimmerman, 2nd year.

Last year: Second in Conference 35 tournament, fourth in 2A East Region tournament.

Key losses: Bryson Peyton, Matt Betz.

Top returnees: Raul Viza-Fernandez, Jr.; Cameron Scheib, Sr.; Zach Koontz, Jr.; Dylan Vess, Jr.

Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Matt Williams, So., Jackson Wolford, So.

Zimmerman’s outlook: “Our top four have been together for three years, and they have good leadership and good drive to be able to compete. They worked hard and got a lot of lessons over the summer. And I was happy that our two sophomores [Williams and Wolford] stuck it out and worked hard on the course in their first tournaments. That’s all you can ask.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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