WARRENTON — In shooting a 91, Braxton Duvall didn't start his season the way he wanted to at the Class 4 Northwestern District mini tournament at Fauquier Springs Country Club on Aug. 5.
The Handley senior knew Monday's return trip to Fauquier Springs could be his last high school golf tournament. That mental approach made the biggest difference in improving by nine shots and tying for fourth place with an 82 at the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.
"There was a lot more on the line [today], since this is district and this is my senior year," said Duvall after his round Monday. "I'm not trying to be nonchalant about it, but the rounds before there wasn't as much of a drive to play well. Today I really focused and tried to minimize the damage. I was mostly bogey or par golf.
"I was making a lot of putts today. My short game was really pulling the weight, and I think I was just overall in a better mental state."
Duvall was frustrated when he bogeyed the 302-yard par-4 first hole, because he said it's a straightforward hole that he doesn't deem particularly challenging. But he then birdied the par-5, 530-yard second hole after hitting his third shot 100 yards to within a foot of the hole.
"That got me rolling, pretty much," Duvall said.
Handley was disappointed that it didn't qualify for the Region 4C tournament as a team. The Judges took fourth with a four-player score of 343, four shots behind James Wood, which grabbed the final regional-qualifying spot.
But Duvall was one three golfers for Handley who qualified for the Oct. 7 Region 4C tournament at Loudoun Golf and Country Club. None of them cracked 90 at the first district mini in August. Sophomore Jack Thome improved from 90 to 83 to tie for seventh overall, and senior Brennan Smith improved from 90 to 85.
"Our team has never really played well here," Handley coach Troy Mezzatesta said. "Braxton Duvall has clearly been working hard on his game, so for him to break through his senior year is awesome. Jack Thome is a solid little golfer who's going to be good for us the next couple of years. And I'm really happy for Brennan. He's put a ton of work in."
Mezzatesta felt bad for senior Cody Williams, who's been one of the team's best players this year but shot a 93 on Monday. Williams (76) was the only golfer among the five area high schools to break 80 at the Skyline Invitational on Sept. 10 at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.
"Cody is probably the most talented kid on the team at times," Mezzatesta said. "He had been playing well coming in. It's just sad when kids that you know put in the time just have that one round that they're going to remember, sadly. Hopefully, something like this makes him better going forward, because he wants to play in college. He's got the game to do that."
No team improved more from the first district mini at Fauquier Springs to Monday than Millbrook. The Pioneers dropped 42 strokes off their score at the mini, where they finished seventh out of eight teams, to place fifth on Monday with a score of 363.
"Our whole team has been playing well lately," Millbrook coach Mark Manspile said. "We had significant improvement [from the mini]. The kids have worked hard, so I'm very pleased. And we get our top five players back next year.
"I've been telling them for a couple weeks that we can really improve for next year, and even this year. We've just made significant improvements around the green and off the tee. We're playing smarter golf. We've been able to clean up some of the mental mistakes. It's been a pleasure to watch them grow and get better over the course of the year."
Junior Austin Allamong was responsible for almost half of that improvement, as he dropped 20 strokes from his district mini score to tie for 10th overall with an 84 on Monday. Allamong will be Millbrook's lone regional representative.
"He's been playing better as of late," Manspile said. "Our last match [at SVGC] he shot 42 [to lead the team], so he's been kind of turning the corner."
Senior Parker Gregg led all local golfers at the first district mini when he shot a 79, but he struggled to an 89 on Monday. Gregg did manage to grab the last regional qualifying spot though, finishing one stroke ahead of playing partner Tyler McGuire of Millbrook.
Sherando coach Joe Knight said Gregg was even through three holes before he fell off.
"I knew he had a really solid game plan going into this tournament, and that was basically to keep the ball in play, tee off and use his four-iron," Knight said. "With this course, it's shotmaking more than anything else. He played a practice round here over the weekend and shot a 79, so we were looking for him to come back around that area.
"I know he's disappointed, but we're happy he's moving on to regionals."
The Warriors will lose three of their top six golfers from this year's team.
"It's going to be a big loss losing Parker and Ian [Adams], but Landon Rohani, who's a junior, has really come on this year," Knight said. "Peyton [Vaught] and David [Johnson] are freshmen, and them playing in a tournament like this, they gained a lot of valuable experience."