Practice payoff: James Wood golfers reaping rewards of hard work

By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

WINCHESTER -- James Wood's golf team is living proof of what you can accomplish through practice.

The Colonels' season didn't start off so well. The team finished 21st out of 24 teams at the season-opening Curly Licklider Invitational at the beginning of August. James Wood followed that up with a disappointing finish in the Bryan Gunter tournament in late August.

"It started off, first day of tryouts, our four low scores made for a 317. Then I don't know if we came back down to reality or what," James Wood coach Al Smith said. "Through the year the scores were higher than I thought they should be. We played a lot of golf those first couple weeks. I heard some of them say they had blisters on their feet and on their hands.

"We played a lot of 18 holes out here, five days a week, before school started. These guys just kept getting better, each time, in each match."

Despite the slow start, the players had faith in their abilities and by the time the Northwestern District season rolled around, they are ready to roll. The Colonels beat both Sherando and Millbrook to start the district season. However, they lost to Handley, which put pressure on them in a dual match against Skyline.

The Colonels played the Hawks on Sept. 16. The week before Skyline had posted a 154 against Millbrook and Smith admitted he was a little worried. The Colonels knew going into the match if they could beat the Hawks they would be Northwestern District champions for the first time since 1990.

They beat the Hawks by a stroke to capture the regular-season title and the automatic Region II berth.

"That was probably one of the best memories I have this season," James Wood senior Nic Cybulski said. "It took so much pressure off of us. No one thought we were going to take it."

The Colonels hope to keep their surprising season going today when they play in the Region II tournament today at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.

The Colonels finished second in the regular season last year, and Smith said the team was able to build on that despite losing four of its top six from last season.

James Wood junior Dylan McKee and Cybulski have led the way for the Colonels all season.

"We had two solid players in Dylan and Nick, and the rest of the team pretty much built off of that," James Wood junior Corey Cochran said. "I know that I felt more confident having them there."

At the beginning of the season, not many would have considered the Colonels a threat to win the district title, which has made accomplishing the feat even sweeter.

"It means a lot because nobody thought we'd be able to do it this year and we did," McKee said.

Now the Colonels' sights are firmly set on winning the regional title and advancing to next week's state tournament. The team has been practicing at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club for the last several weeks in anticipation of the tournament.

It's a course the team knows well and they hope it pays off today.

"You gotta stay out of the trees," Cochran said. "I got pretty good at hitting a 5-iron out from under all those well trees. Hopefully, I won't have to do that much in regions.

"The regionals are going to be pretty serious, and I hope we do really well."

James Wood's Laura Stewart qualified for the girls state tournament on Monday and the rest of the team would like to make a state appearance.

No matter what happens, the season has already been one to remember for James Wood.

"I'm just really proud of these guys, the resiliency they've shown," Smith said. "They put it all together when they needed to. It's a very proud moment for James Wood."

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