Colonels take eighth at Licklider Golf Tournament

FRONT ROYAL — The Kettle Run golf team continued to show on Wednesday that it’s going to be the team to beat in the Class 4 Northwestern District this season, but James Wood, Handley and Millbrook are showing that they all have what it takes to be a force in the district as well.

Those three schools each finished in the top half of the standings at the 21st Curly Licklider Golf Tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.

With all six scores for each team counting, Loudoun County ran away from the 29-school field with a 444, 22 strokes better than runner-up Spotswood (466). Kettle Run placed fourth (475). Locally, James Wood finished eighth (501) and the Colonels were followed by Handley (tied for 10th with a 506), Millbrook (14th with a 522), Sherando (22nd with a 620) and Clarke County (24th with a 666). Four schools did not have enough golfers to record a team score.

At the Licklider, the No. 1 and 2 seeds for each team play on the par-72 Red and Blue combination. Seeds 3 and 4 play on the Blue and White nines and seeds 5 and 6 play on the White and Red nines, which are both par-71 combinations.

Stone Bridge No. 3 seed Will Layton had the top overall score with a 4-under 67, with Heritage No. 1 Joe Johnson shooting a 3-under 69. Millbrook No. 1 seed and senior Will Croyle had the lowest score in relation to par among local golfers, shooting a 5-over 77 that tied for the 20th best score in terms of stroke total. Handley siblings Sam Thome (sophomore and No. 4 seed, 77) and Jack Thome (senior and No. 1 seed, 78), each shot 6-over par.

James Wood was one of only six teams to have six golfers shoot 87 or better. Drake Reese led the way with an 80. He was followed by Caden Ganczak (81), who did not play in Monday’s district mini, and Luke Davis (82).

Colonels coach David Oates thought Ganczak and Davis might shoot in the low to mid 70s on James Wood’s home course. In the end though, it was another solid performance for the Colonels.

“It was confirmed [today] that Kettle Run is the top dog, and I think it’s going to be a tight race between us, Millbrook and Handley for those two other regional spots,” Oates said. “I’m not surprised by that. It’s going to be close, and I’m looking forward to competing and seeing what happens in that district tournament.”

Handley was the only Winchester-Frederick County school that competed in the Virginia High School League season in the spring, and the Judges qualified for their first region tournament since 2009. Handley — which only lost one golfer from the team that competed in the district tournament and took second in Monday’s district mini at Fauquier Springs — saw its top four golfers shoot 85 or better on Wednesday.

Judges coach Troy Mezzatesta said the competition is increasing in practice to see which golfers will get to participate on tournament and match days, and that’s helping with better team scores.

“[Shooting a] 44 got in [for the top six at this tournament], but last year at this time in the season it was 49, 48,” Mezzatesta said. “They’re driving each other and making each other better. It’s a good competition. There’s no hard feelings. It’s cool to see them kind of meshing together. They worked so hard over the summertime, and we’re off to a good start.”

Mezzatesta noted with a smile that the Thomes argued a bit over who had the more impressive performance — since Jack played the Red course and Sam played the White, the answer wasn’t cut and dried. All that matters for the Judges is that low scores from the brothers is a good situation to have.

Jack Thome is picking up where he left off in the spring, where he lost in a playoff for a Class 4 state berth with his best-ever high school round of 74. Jack has two 78s to start the season, also shooting that at Fauquier Springs on Monday.

Jack started out at Blue No. 5 in the shotgun start tournament. He didn’t have any birdies, but he felt he played consistently. He said he got a confidence boost by getting up and down from 100 yards out on the par-4 Red No. 5.

Jack said his goal is to make the state tournament after coming so close last year.

“My putting has improved a lot,” Jack said. “I’ve always had good chipping, but my putting hasn’t always been there. Lately my putting has saved me a lot.”

Jack said he’s impressed with how the Judges are playing as a whole.

“Our team is deeper than it usually has been,” Jack said. “I think we can make a run in the playoffs.”

If his brother puts up performances like he did on Wednesday, that will help Handley’s chances immensely.

Sam had a disappointing triple bogey on his final hole (the 349-yard, par-4 White No. 4), but he still shot his best high school round in his first time playing the Blue and White nines. Sam’s round was 15 strokes better than he shot on Monday. Sam didn’t break 90 in two postseason rounds as a freshman.

“On White 3 [a par-3], it was 161 yards up the hill, and I stuck it a foot and a half from the pin, and I made that birdie putt,” said Sam, who had three birdies total. “That felt really great.

“On Monday, I used a putter I never used before, and I couldn’t make a putt. I went back to my old putter [today], and I two-putted the entire time until the last hole, where I three-putted.”

Millbrook’s Croyle started his round on Wednesday with a three-putt of his own on the par-3 Blue No. 2. He recovered to shoot a 77 for the second time in three days.

Croyle said the significant practice time he’s put in since the COVID-19 pandemic has helped him play more consistently, and a better mental approach has helped.

“One of the main reasons I’m playing a lot better is because mentally, I’ve gotten stronger,” Croyle said. “My putts weren’t falling the way I wanted them to today, but I was hitting the ball well. I was happy with a 77.”

Millbrook coach Mark Manspile noted that Croyle shot a 109 in his first match at Fauquier Springs two years ago, so to shoot a 77 shows how much he’s worked to improve.

“Two years ago, that [opening three-putt] would have stumped him,” Manspile said. “That would have bothered him, and he would have gotten down on himself. Today I talked to him a couple of times after having a bad hole, and his approach has changed tremendously. He’s definitely matured as a player.”

Croyle said he’s excited about his team, which is trying to secure its first region berth in Manspile’s nine years as coach.

“I think our team is going to do very well this year,” he said. “I think we’re going to get hot once everyone starts practicing more together and get more team chemistry.”

Manspile said Croyle’s performance is serving as motivation for the rest of the team. Manspile was impressed on Wednesday with Jack Hersey, who shot an 80.

“I think these kids have really bought into working hard,” Manspile said. “It starts with Will. He’s improved tremendously as a player, and I think our kids feed off of that. Everybody sees what he’s doing, and they want to do that.”

The following are the scores for the rest of the area golfers:

James Wood: Braeden Crawford 85; Sean Cody 86; Brayden Rockwell 87.

Handley: Austin Smith 84, Jag Fitzsimmons 85, Jackson Bouder 91, Mahi Patel 91.

Millbrook: Nick Gressley 85, Chloe Owings 91, Jack Muldowney 93, Richie Pell 96.

Sherando: Kadin Kasuboski 92, Sophia Straightiff 99, Jackson Hepner 103, Isaiah Doeden 104, David Johnston 111, Kieran Lindberg 111.

Clarke County: Thomas Dalton 91, Hunter Breece 97, Devin Simmons-McDonald 113, Owen Swisher 118, Ben Fulmer 120, Tyler Chinn 127.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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