Golf outlook: Local teams ready for competitive season

Traditionally, the first week of August means it’s time for the Curly Licklider Invitational at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal, and all five local high schools will get the chance to compete in the 28-school event today for the first time in two years.

Handley, James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando opened their seasons on Monday with the first Class 4 Northwestern District mini tournament. Kettle Run continued to prove that it’s the team to beat in the seven-team district (Culpeper County is no longer a member). The four-time defending district tournament champions shot a 298 at Fauquier Springs Country Club to win by 40 strokes.

The team that finished second was Handley. In the spring, the Judges qualified for their first region tournament since 2009 by taking second in a five-team district tournament (the three Frederick County schools held their own season outside of the Virginia High School League season) and return five of the six golfers who competed in the district tournament.

Handley is led by senior Jack Thome, who shot a 3-over par 74 at last year’s Region 4C tournament and competed in a playoff for a state tournament berth. Thome is off to a strong start this year, placing fourth overall and second locally at Monday’s district mini with a 78.

Senior Luke Davis, a contributor to James Wood’s regional team in 2019, is expected to lead the Colonels this year (fourth as a team with a 344 on Monday). Drake Reece led the Colonels with an 84 on Monday (one shot better than Davis). The Colonels will also benefit this season from the presence of Caden Ganczak, who did not play on Monday.

Millbrook continues to get better as a team, shooting a 348 to place fifth in Monday’s tournament. Senior Will Croyle led all local golfers by recording a 77 to take third overall.

Sherando will look to improve on Monday’s showing, when only senior Kadin Kasuboski (96) broke 100. The Warriors placed sixth as a team with a 418.

The qualification process for the Region 4C tournament this year will be a little different.

In recent years, the Class 4 Northwestern District regular-season champion — which gets an automatic region tournament berth — was decided by the team that fared best in the two district minis and the Licklider. But coaches said that since not every golfer plays on the same 18 holes at the Licklider, which uses all 27 holes on the course for the tournament, it’s not the most accurate way to compare teams.

The two minis will still be used to determine the district regular- season champion (the second one takes place next Monday at Blue Ridge Shadows in Front Royal), but now each team’s six district head-to-head matches will also factor in determining the regular season champion. The team that scores the most points will be the regular-season champion.

In Monday’s district mini, Kettle Run scored six points for beating the other six teams, Handley scored five, James Wood scored four, etc. The same scoring will take place in next Monday’s mini. Teams are awarded 0.5 points for beating district teams head to head. For example, if Kettle Run beats a team in a dual, Kettle Run scores 0.5 points. If Kettle Run beats two teams in a tri, Kettle Run scores one point. The team that finishes second in the tri scores 0.5 points.

In the district tournament (which will be held on Sept. 27 at Blue Ridge Shadows), the two highest finishing teams outside of the regular-season champion will also advance to the region tournament. Also, the top six individuals outside of the top three teams will advance to regionals.

In the Bull Run District, Phil Facemire takes over as head coach for Tucker Brown. Clarke County loses Region 2B qualifier Keith Dalton from the team that placed third at this spring’s Bull Run District tournament, but his younger brother Thomas, also a Region 2B qualifier, returns.

Only two teams from the Bull Run qualified for the Region 2B tournament last year. This year, the top four teams in the Bull Run and any individual that finishes in the top 15 of the district tournament will advance to regionals.

Handley Coach: Troy Mezzatesta, fifth year.

Last year: Second in Class 4 Northwestern District tournament; fourth in Region 4C tournament.

Key losses: Bobby Kaniecki, Thomas Jones

Key returnees: Jack Thome, Sr.; Austin Smith, Sr.; Jag Fitzsimmons, So.; Sam Thome, So.; Jackson Bouder, So.; Ashley Truban, Jr.; Mahi Patel, Sr.; Gordon Burton, Sr.; John-Henry Herrington, Sr.; Dash Fitzsimmons, So.; Sally Miller, Jr.

Key newcomers: Nash Sharma, Fr.

Mezzatesta’s outlook: “Our expectations are to get better each week and progress through districts and into regions as a team, have a winning record for the season, and continue to progress as golfers and show perseverance when small things don’t go our way on the course. Jack Thome and Austin Smith are seniors that have served the team as key members over the last four years. Both of these young men have an incredible work ethic and are quality, coachable athletes. Jag Fitzsimmons, Sam Thome, Jackson Bouder, Ashley Truban and Mahi Patel were key contributors over the past two seasons and I look forward to witnessing their growth as they continue to put their time, energy and sweat into keeping the Handley golf team a quality force in competition.”

James Wood Coach: David Oates, ninth year.

Last year: Did not compete in VHSL season.

Key loss: Carson Baker

Key returnees: Luke Davis, Sr.; Sean Cody, Jr.; Drake Reece, Jr.; Caden Ganczak, So.; Braeden Crawford, So.; Jake Shelly, So.

Key newcomers: Brayden Rockwell, Fr.

Oates’ outlook: “We are a young team in terms of competing in the district. Luke is my only player who is battle-tested on the district and regional level. If we play to our ability, I believe we will be competitive. This is the hardest-working team I’ve had in terms of offseason preparation. We talked after the spring season of what it was going to take to compete. They listened. Five or six of the players have been playing in various tournaments and practicing a lot. Luke is our leader and very focused. His short game has improved, particularly his putting. I expect Drake, Braeden and Caden to be big contributors to our program. Sean had a lot of offseason commitments, but he will be there as the season moves along. Brayden is very athletic. I look for a lot of good things out of him.”

Millbrook Coach: Mark Manspile, ninth year.

Last year: Did not compete in VHSL season.

Key losses: Tyler McGuire, Jakob Villasista.

Key returnees: William Croyle, Sr.; Nick Gressley, Sr.; Jack Hersey, Sr.; Richie Pell, So.; Jack Muldowney, Sr.; Chloe Owings, Sr.

Key newcomers: None mentioned.

Manspile’s outlook: “The overall expectations for our team this season are to compete and be in contention with local competition. Our team has worked very hard since the end of last season, as we saw some success during the shortened season. Individually, we have quite a few seniors with a lot of match experience and in various junior tournaments. That experience should help us in matches and tournaments this year. I look forward to watching this team compete and progress over the course of the season to give us our best chance at the end of September.”

Sherando Coach: Joe Knight, fourth year.

Last year: Did not compete in VHSL season.

Key losses: Elijah Ralls, Landon Rohani, Logan Dunston.

Key returnees: Kadin Kasuboski, Sr., Joshua Call, Sr.; David Johnston, Jr.

Key newcomers: Isaiah Doeden, Fr.; Jackson Hepner, Fr.; Kieran Lindburg, Fr.; Sophia Straightiff, Fr.; Landon Rust, Fr.; Charlie Lease, So.

Knight’s outlook: “We’re a very young and inexperienced team this season. However, we’re pleased to have five freshmen and one sophomore join the team. Returnees Kadin Kasuboski, Josh Call and David Johnston played in Frederick County’s shortened season for us last spring, so they have some actual match play experience. Kadin played well enough in the spring to move into our No. 1 slot, and Josh was close behind playing in No. 2 or 3. Newcomers Isaiah Doeden and Sophia Straightiff started playing regularly before the official start of the season on July 26 and have been putting up consistent scores in their practice rounds. Jackson Hepner, Kieran Lindburg, Landon Rust and Charlie Lease have all shown that they can play and have potential. Now, it’s just a matter of developing their golfing skills in several key areas and getting them some playing experience. How fast and how well they develop as the season progresses will determine how we fare in the Northwestern District tournament in September.”

Clarke County Coach: Phil Facemire, first year.

Last year: Fourth at the Bull Run District tournament.

Key loss: Keith Dalton.

Key returnees: Hunter Breece, So.; Thomas Dalton, Jr.; Shaine Wallace, Sr.

Key newcomers: Tyler Chinn, Jr.; Devin Simmons-McDonald, Fr.; Ben Fulmer, Jr.

Facemire’s outlook: “I am new to the team this year, so I haven’t had much time to see what they can do. That said, what I have seen so far is a team full of players that are motivated to play, work well as a team, and each excel at different aspects of the game. My hopes and expectations for this team are that they learn from each other, develop their games, keep their interest, have a blast playing and keep coming back for more.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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