Golf outlook: Handley off to strong start in Class 4 Northwestern

The Winchester-Frederick County golf scene is going to look a lot different this year. Each of The Winchester Star’s six First Team All-Area golfers in 2021 have either graduated or moved.

Handley (second in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament), Millbrook (third) and James Wood (fourth) each lost at least three golfers from the six who competed at the district tournament. Defending district champion Kettle Run no longer has its top three golfers from last year’s team, including defending 2021 individual district champ Ben Gray.

Based on Monday’s season-opening district mini tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows, the Judges should certainly be in the hunt for a district championship. Led by junior Jag Fitzimmons’ 77, Handley recorded a four-player score of 335 to win by 11 strokes over Kettle Run (346). James Wood was third with a 347.

Winchester Star Golfer of the Year Jack Thome, a Class 4 state qualifier last year, is now at NCAA Division III Bridgewater College. This year’s Judges feature Fitzsimmons, a Second Team All-Area selection who tied for sixth at last year’s district tournament with an 81, and Thome’s junior brother Sam, who placed third on Monday with a 79.

James Wood had a disappointing district tournament after a strong regular season last year. The Colonels no longer have Luke Davis (now at NCAA Division II Shepherd University) and junior Caden Ganczak, who tied for the second in the district tournament last year but has moved to Florida. The Colonels do bring back three All-Area Second Team selections in senior Drake Reese, junior Braeden Crawford and sophomore Brayden Rockwell, who led the team and placed second overall with a 78 at Monday’s district mini.

Millbrook lost five of its top six golfers from last year, when the Pioneers qualified for their first Region 4C tournament since 2011. Junior Rich Pell is back after posting the third-best score for Millbrook at the region tournament with an 83. Pell also shot an 83 at Monday’s district mini and placed fifth overall.

Sherando (sixth in the district) brings back four of its top six from the district tournament, but the Warriors are also undergoing significant change. The Warriors lost their lone regional qualifier (Kadin Kasuboski) and their top-seeded player (Joshua Call) for the district tournament. Sophomore Isaiah Doeden led the Warriors’ at Monday’s mini with a 93.

Sherando is also no longer under the direction of Joe Knight, who stepped down after four seasons and has been replaced by Paul Gerometta. A Virginia State Golf Association senior amateur for eight years and a VSGA section chairman for six years, Gerometta is the father of Mike Gerometta, who played on Sherando’s 1998 state championship team and was The Winchester Star’s Co-Golfer of the Year in 1999.

Clarke County placed fourth in the Bull Run District tournament last year. The Eagles return a Class 2 state qualifier in junior Hunter Breece, a Second Team All-Area selection last year.

All five teams will be in action on Wednesday at the Curly Licklider Invitational at Bowling Green Country Club in Front Royal. The tournament will serve as the season opener for Clarke County.

The following is a glance at each local team:

Handley

Coach: Troy Mezzatesta, sixth year.

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

Key losses: Jack Thome, Austin Smith, J.H. Herrington.

Key returnees: Jag Fitzsimmons, Jr.; Sam Thome, Jr.; Ashley Truban, Sr.; Jackson Bouder, Jr.; Dash Fitzsimmons, Jr.

Key newcomers: Sofia Bogaty, Fr.; Griffin Hott, Sr.; Charles Turnbull, Sr.

Mezzatesta’s outlook: “We look forward to a good returning group that has varsity experience. We have to continue to work hard each day and improve around the group as well as smaller misses with ball striking. It is a solid group of kids that work well together and that is a very nice recipe for putting together some solid matches. We hope to be in the mention at the end of the season for the [district] title. We have some experience in the top four and we need to start utilizing that as our strength. We will need to stay in each shot and bounce back when we have a less-than-desirable hole. That mental toughness is something we need to make a strength as golf can really beat you up mentally some days.

“Jag Fitzsimmons has been a three-year starter and certainly can go low. He’s a real talent that can hit all the shots. We look forward to his growth and leadership this season. Sam Thome is another three-year starter and hard worker that can put up low numbers as well. He is a positive team leader and one that will use his experience to move the team forward. Ashley Truban is a tough young lady that has great leadership qualities. We hope to see her continue to anchor the success of the group as we develop as a team this season. Jackson Bouder has varsity experience and has worked hard on his game in the offseason. Making sure he understands how good he is important because the added confidence will carry us a long way. Dash Fitzsimmons has refined his power game and incorporated some touch around the greens. He keeps practice fun for everyone and he’s played a lot of golf through the years, so the more he plays in matches the better he should get because he’s proved he doesn’t mind the pressure. Seniors Charles Turnbull, Sally Miller and Nick Hott will battle for the starting six each week and their athleticism, as well as competitiveness, will make the whole team better.”

Millbrook

Coach: Mark Manspile, 10th year.

Last year: Third in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament; fifth in Region 4C.

Key losses: Will Croyle, Nick Gressley, Jack Hersey, Jack Muldowney.

Key returnees: Rich Pell, Jr. (Back on team but new to lineup): Logan Limoges, Jr.; Travis Hambrick, Jr.; Molly Deegan, Jr.; Colin Wilt, Jr.

Key newcomers: Arizona Parkes, Jr.; Aidan Cleary, Fr.; Anthony Gelormine, Fr.

Manspile’s outlook: “We had a great season last year, so we’re looking to build off of that and gain match experience early in the season. We had a lot of experienced, upperclassmen on last year’s team. Our kids have already risen to the challenge thus far in practice, working hard. They’re eager to learn, practice, and improve. Rich returning to the lineup from last year’s team will help provide great experience to our lineup and I look for him to have a great season. Each year I try to instill in our teams that we want to be playing our best golf at the end of the season. It’s a process to improve and get better. If we stick to our game plan, and continue to work hard each day, we’ll be where we want to be by the district tournament.”

James Wood

Coach: David Oates, 10th year.

Last year: Fourth in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.

Key losses: Luke Davis, Sean Cody, Caden Ganczak.

Key returnees: Drake Reese, Sr.; Braeden Crawford, Jr.; Brayden Rockwell, So.; Zach Woskobunik, So.; Laney Stiles, So.; Lauren Van Horn, So.; Anna Tyson, So.; Ian Longo, So.

Key newcomers: Jake Bursey, So.; Connor Causby, Fr.

Oates’ outlook: “Drake, Braeden, and Brayden, are our only returning players who have played competitive golf in high school. They are very driven after our finish last year. I can see five or six of our other players competing for playing time. I feel we will have some good days and others that will be chalked up to a learning experience. [As far as the district race], it’s hard to say. I believe the top four teams from last year have had key players who are not back. The teams that have players who do not have a lot of experience step up have the best opportunity. What I would say about this group is they have worked on their game over the summer. Several of the players have played VSGA events, at their club, and attended various camps. Every player returning has improved tremendously.”

Sherando

Coach: Paul Gerometta, first year.

Last year: Sixth in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.

Key losses: Kadin Kasuboski, Joshua Call.

Key returnees: Isaiah Doeden, So.; Sophia Straightiff, So.; Jackson Hepner, So.; Landon Rust, So.; Charlie Lease, Jr.; Kieran Lindberg, Jr.

Key newcomers: None mentioned.

Gerometta’s outlook: “Four sophomores have lots of potential but not much experience so it will be a learning year for both the players and their coach. We look to gain experience and should be very competitive in a year or two. Isaiah and Sophia will probably be the most improved over last year when they were first-year players.”

Clarke County

Coach: Phil Facemire, second year.

Last year: Fourth in the Bull Run District tournament; fifth in Region 2B.

Key losses: Shaine Wallace, Ele Smalley, Owen Swisher.

Key returnees: Hunter Breece, Jr.; Thomas Dalton, Sr., Devin Simmons-McDonald, So.; Tyler Chinn, Sr.; Joe Ziercher, Jr.; Ben Fulmer, Sr.

Key newcomers: None mentioned.

Facemire’s outlook: “Many of the players trying out are rising freshmen and sophomores, which is a wonderful thing to be a part of. The returning players have each improved over the summer and have taken on the responsibility of helping and encouraging the new potential team members during the tryout events. I expect that the team will continue their positive support of each other, their commitment to sportsmanship and hone their playing. As an idealist, I see us at least going back to regionals as a team. As a realist, I know that is a hard road ahead, but I am certain my players are up to the task. We shall see.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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