That’s all it took for the Kettle Run Cougars to win the Class 4 Northwestern District championship this golf season.
They clinched the title and a bid to the Region 4C tournament by winning a district mini meet Aug. 7 during the Curly Licklider tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. That came after beginning the season Aug. 5 with a similar first-place finish in a district mini at Fauquier Springs Country Club.
“I’ve got a great group of kids,” Kettle Run coach Dale Edwards said. “This group as really, really jelled good together. … They’re all supportive of each other.”
The Cougars won district mini No. 2 by shooting a 306 with Fauquier third (327) and Liberty sixth (383) among the eight Class 4 Northwestern teams that played along with 18 other non-district teams in the Curly Licklider.
“That was pretty impressive,” Edwards said of Kettle Run’s 306, which was one of the team’s best scores in history. “Every one of my starters has put time in [during] the offseason, a lot, and that’s how they get good.”
Most of the Cougars hone their skills in the offseason at the Irish Golf Academy.
“It has made all the difference in the world,” Edwards said. “They put in their own time and play in a lot of tournaments. … They come into this [high school season] playing good.”
Kettle Run senior No. 1 golfer Reece Massei led all district golfers in the second mini by shooting a 72. Junior No. 6 Joey Shull followed with an 81 while sophomore No. 3 Gabby Finan shot a 78 and sophomore No. 5 Ben Gray shot an 81.
Earlier, in the first district mini, Massei shot a 73 as the individual medalist and one of Kettle Run’s three returning starters.
“He’s ridiculous,” Edwards said. “He’s a scratch golfer; really, really good.
“He came in with a whole new maturity that was blossoming,” the coach said. “He’s been a great, great teammate. … When you’re starting three sophomores, you need the upperclassmen to really be positive with them.”
Kettle Run won that first district mini by shooting 319 while Fauquier took second at 332 and Liberty placed fifth at 392. For the Cougars, senior No. 2 Trevor Berg shot 80, and shooting 83 each were Finan and No. 4 Colin Doyle.
“He has stepped up compared to when he first started,” Edwards said. “He was always athletic, and then all of a sudden he took golf has his [main] sport. He’s a great ball striker, and he’s only going to get better.”
With a region berth already secured, the Cougars can now set their sights on qualifying for state during the late-September Region 4C meet. Last fall, Kettle Run finished third in the region, falling only one spot short of earning their first team state berth in history.
Edwards hopes his Cougars can shoot a 300 at regionals this season.
“We definitely have potential,” he said. “I’m always blessed to have six players that can play [well]. … Every year I will have a surprise player that pulls out something amazing.”
After missing a state berth by only one stroke last fall, Fauquier senior Bryce Leazer has shown potential early this season for a return trip to the Class 4 tournament.
He qualified for state as a sophomore, and he again leads the Falcons in 2019 as their No. 1 golfer.
Leazer shot a 76 during the Class 4 Northwestern District second mini tournament Aug. 7 and a 74 during the first mini to tie for second individually in the latter.
“Bryce is well established,” Fauquier coach Bob Martin said. “He’ll always be top notch. … I expect him to go to states.”
Senior Nate Winebarger has also impressed Martin as Fauquier’s No. 3 golfer after he shared time at No. 6 last fall. Winebarger shot 78 in the second district mini of 2019 and 74 in the first.
“Nate’s played a lot better than I expected,” Martin said.
Senior No. 2 Drew Howser added rounds of 82 and 79 in the district minis with sophomore No. 4 Cory Burke shooting 91 and 105. Martin hopes a consistently-low scorer in that No. 4 slot with lead Fauquier to a region berth. The Falcons stand tied in the regular season standings with James Wood, which also had second- and third-place finishes in the district minis.
“I need to develop one more [strong] player,” said Martin, who lost four seniors following last season, including three starters.
With a trio of golfers consistently shooting under 100, the Liberty Eagles appear on pace for one of their best seasons in recent memory.
They lost only one senior to graduation following last fall, giving them five returning starters in 2019.
“I feel like our kids have improved since last year and they’re eager to keep getting better,” said second-year Liberty head coach Karen Mesick. “They’re more motivated.
“She’s done a wonderful thing with her team,” Fauquier coach Bob Martin said.
Junior Jacob McCoy has moved into Liberty’s No. 1 spot, at least for the time being, after shooting 83 and 86 during the first two Class 4 Northwestern District mini tournaments of 2019.
“McCoy is our most improved,” Mesick said.
Senior No. 2 Nathan Lilly, who began the season at No. 1, shot 88 and 86 in the minis, while junior No. 3 Emily Markley shot a pair of 97s. Senior No. 4 Julia Gleason shot a 115 in the second mini and sophomore No. 5 Bradley Kilby shot a 123 in the first mini.
“I have a very small team,” Mesick said, “so I’m reliant on those [top] four to help teach other kids and give us some good scores.”