James Wood coach David Oates will worry about 2020 when it comes. Right now, 2019 looks pretty promising.
With four seniors in their top six, the Colonels have outshined most of the Class 4 Northwestern District — and all of the local schools — in each of their first two tournaments.
James Wood placed third in the eight-team Class 4 Northwestern District mini tournament last Monday at Fauquier Springs Country Club in Front Royal with a four-player score of 349. On Wednesday, the Colonels took sixth out of 26 teams at the Curly Licklider Invitational at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club and improved their four-player score by 26 shots. Out of the eight participating Class 4 Northwestern District teams (Culpeper County has been added to the district), only Kettle Run had a better performance at the Licklider.
Five of James Wood's nine golfers are seniors.
"I do this year," said Oates when asked if he likes having so many seniors on a team that placed fourth at last year's district tournament. "Next year, we're going to be really low on numbers.
"But this is a group of seniors that basically all came in as freshmen, and we had a terrible year as far as won and loss that year. But they've stuck with it. So yes, I'm really proud of this class."
Kettle Run has already won the district regular-season title as a result of having the best combined finishes in the aforementioned two tournaments (a second district mini scheduled last week in Culpeper that would have factored in the regular-season race was canceled). A total of three teams from the district will qualify for the Region 4C tournament, and so far James Wood's senior class is leading the way in showing that the Colonels could be one of those teams. The two teams outside of Kettle Run that finish the highest at the Sept. 23 district tournament at Fauquier Springs will qualify for regionals.
Jackson Lynch leads that senior contingent. One of two area golfers back from last year's Winchester Star all-area team (Handley senior Braxton Duvall is the other), Lynch has posted James Wood's best score at each of its first two tournaments. Lynch (84.5 stroke average last year) recorded an 82 at the district mini and a 79 that was the area's best score relative to par at the Licklider. Senior Drew Johnson — who qualified for the Region 4C tournament individually last year alongside Lynch — finished second behind Lynch at the district mini. Junior Carson Baker had the team's second-best score relative to par at the Licklider.
While James Wood has played well, Handley (fifth in the district tournament last year) isn't too far behind. The Judges have been the fourth-best district team so far even though Duvall (83 stroke average in 2018) didn't finish higher than third on his team in either of last week's tournaments. Handley (team score of 354) was led by senior Cody Williams at the district mini with an 83 and senior Brennan Smith with a 79 at the Licklider, in which the Judges had a four-player score of 335. The Judges also feature sophomore Jack Thome, who qualified for last year's Region 4C tournament individually along with Duvall.
"[Duvall, Williams, Thome, Brennan Smith] and Austin Smith, all five of those kids played some pretty prominent roles for us last year, and they all have tournament experience," Handley coach Troy Mezzatesta said. "Those are guys who can perform for us anytime."
At Sherando (third in the district tournament last year), Joe Knight is now officially the head coach after leading last year's team on an interim basis in place of Rob Wright, the 17-year head coach who was on medical leave last season and passed away in March at the age of 67.
The Warriors bring back only two golfers from last year's team that qualified for the Region 4C tournament. Everyone else is new to high school golf. Sherando tied for the fifth at the district mini and placed 21st at the Licklider.
Senior Parker Gregg — who led the Warriors with an 80 at last year's district tournament — led all local golfers at the district mini with a 79. Sherando's departures include graduated 2018 Winchester Star Golfer of the Year Brandon Nice and fellow 2018 all-area selection Caleb Dodson, who transferred to Skyline.
Millbrook brings back five of the six golfers who participated in last year's district tournament, where the Pioneers took sixth. Millbrook was led by sophomore Nick Gressley (94) at the district mini in which the Pioneers placed seventh and junior Tyler McGuire (86) at the Licklider where Millbrook took 19th. At the Licklider, the Pioneers dropped 41 strokes off their four-player score (364) compared to the district mini.
Clarke County is undergoing almost a complete rebuild. The Eagles lost three Winchester Star all-area golf selections from last year and five seniors who competed in last year's Bull Run District tournament. Clarke County does not have a single senior and will be led by juniors Keith Dalton, who paced the Eagles with a 98 at the Licklider, and Jackson Franklin. Eagles coach Tucker Brown said that duo might have only competed in one match each last year.
Clarke County (third in the district tournament last year) will compete in revamped Bull Run that loses Central and George Mason but adds East Rockingham, Luray, Page County, and Stonewall Jackson.
Handley, James Wood, Millbrook, and Sherando are next in action at the two-day Bryan Gunter Memorial Tournament that begins today at Winchester Country Club and concludes Tuesday at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club (8:30 a.m. start both days). Clarke County is also in action today in a Bull Run District dual at 4 p.m. against Page County at Luray Caverns Golf Course.
The following is a glance at each area team:
Coach: David Oates, 7th year.
Last year: 4th in Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.
Key losses: Jacob Karen, Cameron Baker, John Greene, Zach Stautzenbach, Jax Bell.
Key returnees: Jackson Lynch, Sr.; Drew Johnson, Sr.; Evan Peterman, Sr.; Hunter Rowe, Sr.; Carson Baker, Jr.; Luke Davis, So.
Key newcomers: Ethan Russell, Sr. (last played in 2016); Sean Cody, Fr.; Drew Thomlison, Fr.
Oates' outlook: "From what I've seen so far, which is very little, I would have to think that two of three schools between us, Fauquier and Handley will move on [to regionals] along with Kettle Run. Luke and Evan Peterman have definitely improved a lot. They're just striking the ball better. Their shortcoming right now, and they are improving, is their short game, chipping and putting. If they keep improving on that, I think you'll see the numbers come down, because they're probably losing six to eight strokes a round that way."
Coach: Troy Mezzatesta, 3rd year.
Last year: 5th in Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.
Key losses: Maddi Neff, Catherine Burton.
Key returnees: Braxton Duvall, Sr.; Jack Thome, So.; Cody Williams, Sr.; Brennan Smith, Sr.
Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Austin Smith, So.; Bobby Kaniecki, Jr.; Joe Louque, Sr.; Jonathan Carter, Jr.; Mahi Patel, So.
Mezzatesta's outlook: "Absolutely, [we can make the region tournament]. All the seniors have four years of varsity experience, and they clearly have that on their side. Early on, we've got the pre-tournament jitters. Hopefully, we'll get settled in here as the season goes along and play to our potential. We've just got to get dialed in. A little more competitive play in the offseason always helps. We've got to up that probably in the future so these aren't our first tournaments of the year."
Coach: Joe Knight, 2nd year.
Last year: 3rd in Class 4 Northwestern District tournament; 6th in Region 4C tournament.
Key losses: Brandon Nice, Gavin Eanes, Caleb Dodson (transferred to Skyline).
Key returnees: Parker Gregg, Sr.; Ian Adams, Sr.
Key newcomers: Calvin Bowser, Sr.; Peyton Vaught, Fr.; Landon Rohani, Jr.; David Johnston, Fr.; Rylan Straightiff, Jr.; John McIntyre, Sr.; Christian Hazelwood, Fr.
Knight's outlook: "It's going to be a challenging year for us. Comparing [the district mini] results  to the [Licklider] results [a four-player score of 375], I'm pretty happy. No. 2 through No. 6 all dropped a significant amount of strokes. Parker shot a 79 [at the district mini] and an 84 [at the Licklider], and knowing him he's not happy about it, but I'm satisfied this early. If we can keep him in that range, I know he wants to go lower into the 70s, and I have no doubt he can do that with his desire and motivation. I think Parker's Northwestern District performance last year really kind of motivated him last year. He's been playing really well. Overall, we have to be very patient. It's been a learning experience for the new golfers. We hope everyone improves as the season moves on."
Coach: Mark Manspile, 7th year.
Last year: 6th in Class 4 Northwestern District tournament.
Key loss: Jack Hayton.
Key returnees: Tyler McGuire, Jr.; Austin Allamong, Jr.; Nick Gressley, So.; David Allamong, Sr.; Patrick Ellis, Sr.
Key newcomers: Chloe Owings, So.; William Croyle, So.
Manspile's outlook: "We're playing a lot better today," said Manspile prior to the Licklider's conclusion. "I told the kids to go out [at the district mini] and do the best you can, and we'll work on a lot of things in practice. Typically short game is where kids struggle the most, so we spent a good deal of practice [on Tuesday] working on short game. Talking with the kids that have come through [at the Licklider], scores have been lower, so I'm pretty excited about where we're headed. Tyler will be leading the way and Nick Gressley has been playing pretty well to start the year. Nick worked really hard this offseason, and it's showing so far. Nick seems to be more confident in what he's doing compared to last year."
Coach: Tucker Brown, 2nd year.
Last year: 3rd in Bull Run District tournament.
Key losses: Zach Koontz, Raul Viza-Fernandez, Dylan Vess, Trae Lambert, Seth Hicks.
Key returnees: Jackson Franklin, Jr.; Keith Dalton, Jr.
Key newcomers (for top six consideration): Paul Gennaro, So.; Ian Clapp, Jr.; Jack Facemire, Fr.; Thomas Dalton, Fr.
Brown's outlook: "It's all brand new to everybody. Last year it was, 'Let them go out and play' this year it's more teaching them how tournaments are run and how matches are played. Instead of focusing on winning and states and regionals, it's more teaching them the game of golf, which is fun its own right. You miss the teams that have left in the district, but I'm looking forward to seeing some newer teams in the district. We'll just play our game and try to be consistent."