The majority of high school golf coaches are quick to point out that "It's not what you do during the regular season that matters the most — it's what you do on the day of the district and region …
The majority of high school golf coaches are quick to point out that "It's not what you do during the regular season that matters the most — it's what you do on the day of the district and region tournaments that counts."
Such was the case Monday at Cleveland Country Club as the Walker Valley boys, who had not won a regular season match, nor finished higher than fifth in any of their four tournaments this season, stunned the competition to claim their fourth straight District 5-Large championship.
"The guys played great. I am so proud of how they fought today," declared head coach Will Campbell after his first Herd in a dozen years posted a 326, bettering their previous best score this fall by 18 strokes despite the action having to weather a two-hour lightning delay.
"It was a tough day with the rain and the weather delay. They stayed focused and played some great golf. I challenged them to shoot a 330. I thought that could possibly get us into the region. They went out and beat that by four and won the whole thing.
"It's pretty incredible. They are a great group and I'm really happy for them," he added.
Meanwhile, Bradley Central (328), which had lost just once to a district opponent this season, and East Hamilton (331), which had the win over the Bears, were the favorites coming into the event, but had to settle for second and third place respectively. Both teams earned spots in the Region 3-Large Tournament next week.
On the girls side, Cleveland High, which also had just one district defeat during the regular campaign, repeated as district champs with a 17-stroke runaway.
"The girls got off to a great start with Hannah (Nall) making birdie on her 1st hole (No. 10). They knew what they had to do today and as much as we wanted to win the tournament today, we wanted to prepare for next Monday's region tournament," related first-year Lady Raider coach Matt Lowery.
"They didn't play great, but it was good enough to bring home our second straight district tournament win. We have plenty to work on this week to be ready for region.
"I was glad to see them win today. They have been the best team in the district all season, but you still have to go out and prove it today" he added.
Cleveland carded a 171 total, while Bradley, who handed them their lone district defeat, was the runner-up with a 188. Sequoyah was just a shot behind at 189 for the final team berth to advance.
"We didn't play well today," bemoaned Bradley head coach Don Burke. "We had some good individual numbers, but overall our team scores were much higher than we've been shooting.
"Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call for us. We'll have to do a lot better to have a chance (at a state berth) next week."
The Region 3 Tournament will be back at CCC Monday (Sept. 17) with just one team and three individual bids available for the TSSAA State Championship the following week at WillowBrook Golf Club in Manchester.
The Walker Valley boys were led by their most experienced player, as two-time TSSAA State participant Dalton Sutton tied for the best score of the day with a 1-under-par 71.
The Mustang junior lost on the second hole of a playoff when he bogeyed, while Miller Wick of East Hamilton rolled in a par putt for low-medalist honors.
Both Sutton and Wick shot even par of the front nine during regulation and finished with a 35 down the stretch.
"I thought Dalton set the tone. He played a great round, tying for first with a 71," praised Campbell. "He lost in a tough playoff, but I'm super proud of how he lead the way for the younger guys. He was so excited for the team win, which was cool to watch."
The big propellant for the Herd was day No. 5 player Jakob Harvey had, drastically improving his best 18-hole total by 10 strokes.
The sophomore, who had tournament rounds of 92, 95, 96 and 100 during the campaign, carded matching 41s for an 82. Although he shot a 41 in the final county tri-match a couple of weeks ago at CCC, the Georgia transfer has been in the upper 40s and low 50s in the rest of the nine-hole matches this season.
"He played his best round of the year. He was our last guy in, so it was pretty suspenseful. He told me all day he was playing really good and he wasn't wrong," Campbell commented. "He's been a great addition to the team this year. I'm really excited for him to play the way he did today."
Sophomore Koleman Leslie and junior David Dansby rounded out the Walker Valley tally with rounds of 86 and 87 respectively, while senior Jackson Essenburg posted a 95.
Bradley got strong outings from it's two top players all season as senior Gage Brakebill and sophomore JT McKenzie both shot 6-over 78s to tie for the fourth lowest scores of the day.
Brakebill, a 2017 state tournament participant, had a 2-over 38 on the front side and a 40 after the turn, while McKenzie, who fired even par at Beartrace in the City Prep last week, was the reverse.
Lucas Maynard continued his strong senior season and was 1-over (37) at the turn, but had some struggles down the stretch and finished with an 83.
Seniors Tyler Ferguson and Alex Kyle both carded 89s to wrap up the Bear total.
East Hamilton got matching 82s from Matthew Ott and Hayden Davis to go with Wick's 71, but had to use a 96 from Joe Quinlan or Caleb Yates for its four-man tally.
Cleveland finished fourth in the boys play with a 344, but sophomores Kley McGowan and Eli Adams will continue their seasons, earning individual region berths.
McGowan, playing in the same threesome of No. 5 players as Harvey, matched the Mustang with an 82, his second-lowest score of the season.
Adams and McMinn County's No. 1 Nicholas Thompson both fired 85s for the final two individual region bids.
Junior Wade Samples posted an 87 and senior Matt Marino a 90 to round out the Raider score. Sophomore Dillon Linkous carded a 92 in support.
"As for the boys, they struggled all day long," related Lowery. "The course was playing tough. It was wet, the rough was super thick and the wind was up. It just wasn't their day.
"Individually, it was sad to see Matt Marino's career end this way. He has been a key piece for the program the past few years. I really wanted to see him at region.
"On a good note Kley McGowan and Eli Adams get the opportunity to play in the region championship. This will be great for them to get this kind of experience as we start to prepare for next season," he assessed.
McMinn County finished fifth with a 359, but has two players advance as Kobe Watson was third low medalist with a 5-over 77 to join teammate Thompson next week.
Sequoyah was fifth with a 360, while Ooltewah rounded out the event with a 366, but did see Parker Abstance earn a region berth with an 81.
While the girls' side of the tournament was expected to be much closer as Cleveland and Bradley had split their three heads-up meetings 1-1-1, with a seven-shot Lady Raider win and the Bearettes claiming a one-stroke victory to go with their tie.
However, Cleveland had little trouble Monday as Nall continued her outstanding inaugural high school campaign, earning low-medalist honors once again with a 9-over 81. The freshman linkster was 3-over on the front and added a 42 on the back nine.
Posting the third best score of the day among the ladies, junior Ellie Mills fired matching 45s for a 90 to give Cleveland the easy victory.
Bradley sophomore Lauren Baker put up double 44s for an 88 for second low medalist honors, while junior Cuppie Kyle shot an even 100.
Sequoyah got a 93 Kelly Swabe and a 96 by Lindsey Watson, which were the fourth and fifth low medal tallies.
Despite missing out on a team bid, a trio of Walker Valley girls — Abby Ellis (102), Mattea Hooper (107) and Kiana Hooper (114) qualified for the region as individuals, as did Shea Thompson (97), of Ooltewah, and McMinn County's Darien Sneed (117).
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