Golf - Curly Licklider Invitational

FRONT ROYAL — The Clarke County and James Wood golf teams had the best seasons among local teams in 2017, and based on their play Wednesday 2018 could shape up to be pretty strong as well.

The Eagles took fifth in the 22-team Curly Licklider Invitational, which counts all six golfers’ scores, for the best local team performance. That’s three places higher than they finished in last year’s 20-school field. Clarke County did not place behind any of the Winchester/Frederick County schools at the Licklider or Skyline tournaments in 2017, the only two competitions that feature all five local schools.

James Wood — the only local team to qualify for regional tournament play last year — took ninth with a 524. But for the remainder of the season only the top four scores for each team will count, and the Colonels’ top four combined for a 328 on Wednesday. That’s better than any score James Wood shot during the 2017 season.

Heritage and Loudoun Valley took first and second, respectively, for the second straight year. Led by individual champion Aidan Baron, the Pride’s 451 bested Loudoun Valley (471) by 20 strokes.

Baron shot a six-under-par 66 on the Blue and Red nines to beat Woodgrove’s Alex Price and Loudoun County’s Matthew Monastero by five strokes. The Licklider changed the format for this year’s tournament. The No. 1 and 2 golfers for each team played the par-72 Blue-Red, Nos. 3 and 4 played the par-71 White-Blue, and Nos. 5 and 6 played the par-71 Red-White.

Handley was 12th (536) and Millbrook was 16th (587). Sherando was one of three teams that did not register a team score because it did not have six golfers. Warriors interim coach Joe Knight — who is filling in for Rob Wright, who is on medical leave this season — said two golfers were unable to compete on Wednesday but will be back next week.

Both Clarke County and James Wood bring back most of their top six golfers from 2017, so both teams stand to have a good chance of making performances like the ones they had on Wednesday a regular occurrence.

Clarke County was led by three 2017 Winchester Star all-area selections in seniors Raul Viza-Fernandez (79, played at No. 2 on Wednesday), No. 3 Dylan Vess (80) and No. 1 Zach Koontz (82). Senior Seth Hicks, a newcomer to the team who transferred to the school last year, played at No. 5 and shot an 88.

Clarke County is led this year by new coach Tucker Brown. Brown said former coach Jessica Zimmerman left Clarke County to take another job.

“This is just our second day playing golf, so we just wanted to do our best,” Brown said. “Zach’s a little disappointed with the 82 of course, but he shot even-par on the back nine. He started off a little rough, but he ended super strong.

“The top three, they always want to be better, but for the second time out, I’m pretty excited about it. I do like that they’re a little disappointed, because they know they can be a little better. But again, second day, you don’t want to expect too much from these guys.”

James Wood was led on Wednesday by No. 1 Jacob Karen — a senior who had the lowest score among area golfers with a 77 — senior No. 5 John Greene (79), junior No. 2 Jackson Lynch (86) and sophomore No. 3 Carson Baker (86).

“The team’s excited,” said James Wood coach David Oates. “They’ve definitely got a very positive attitude.”

Karen — who started at Blue No. 2 in the shotgun start — said he was two-under through nine holes. Karen birdied the par-4 Blue No. 4 and No. 5 holes.

Karen said the heat started to get to him and he lost focus on the back nine, but Wednesday was the type of season debut he was looking for.

“I’ve been working on my swing with Coach Oates on the TrackMan machine [at SVGC] the past couple of days, so I wasn’t sure how rocky it would be,” Karen said. “But I was really, really happy with the way I hit the ball. I really struck it pure.

“A lot of professional golfers use [TrackMan] with their coaches. It records your swing. If you ever watch pro golf on TV you’ll see the tracer follow the ball, and this is like that. It will show your club path and your face path, which direction they were going, if they’re interlocking. It gives you 25 different numbers on your shot — swing path, face path, face at angle of impact, the carry, overall yardage, spins per minute, things like that. It really helps you analyze your swing.”

Karen said he was impressed with what his teammates did. Both Karen and Oates were particularly pleased with John Greene.

“I don’t know if John has ever broken 90, so when he came in and said he shot a 79 ...” Oates said. “He’s been working on his short game a lot, and we’ve got him in a different position on the tee. He played good golf today, and we’re really happy for him.”

Handley was led by senior No. 1 Maddi Neff (85), junior No. 4 Brennan Smith (87) and senior No. 6 Catherine Burton (89).

“From the front nine to the back nine, they made big adjustments with their attitude,” Judges coach Troy Mezzatesta said. “I was happy about that. We talked about persevering and being tough out there. Catherine Burton, that’s the best score she’s had. All summer long, I saw her and Maddi working hard, and that just shows you that the process pays.”

Millbrook was without its usual No. 1 Tyler McGuire because he was out of town, but Pioneers coach Mark Manspile was pleased with a group led by sophomore No. 4 Austin Allamong (88).

“I’m OK with what the scores are right now. They’re talking about themselves more than I am, saying, ‘I left a couple of shots out there,’” he said. “My message is, ‘I don’t want to be playing our best golf right now. As long as we’re working hard in practice, we’ll be playing our best when we want to at the end of the year.’ The big thing right now is to get comfortable playing in tournaments, because I have a lot of guys who don’t have a whole lot of match experience.”

Sherando was led by senior No. 1 Brandon Nice (78), junior No. 4 Caleb Dotson (85) and junior No. 2 Ian Adams (89).

Knight said he was asked less than three weeks ago by Sherando coordinator of student activities Jason Barbe to step in for Wright. Knight hasn’t had much time to get to know the team, but he’s enjoyed working with them, and he saw some good things on Wednesday.

“I think we’ve got a lot of talent one through four, and we’re just going to see how we can develop the No. 5 and No. 6 positions,” Knight said.

Nice said the best he’s ever shot at SVGC was a 75 two months ago. Nice said he’s been working particularly hard on his driving and putting since last year, and he was strong in both of those areas Wednesday.

Nice — who started at Blue No. 4 — said his approach shots were also key. He had a tap-in birdie on the 355-yard par-4 Blue No. 6 after an approach shot from 50 yards away, and another on the 471-yard par-5 No. 4 Red from 120 yards away.

“This is one of the best scores I’ve ever shot for Sherando,” Nice said. “I’ve got more length and accuracy with my drives, and that’s helping.”

— 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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