By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Coming into this season, Strasburg golf coach Ricky Bowley knew the strength and success of his team would rest in the hands of his returning talent.
Led by senior Derek Davis, the team's lone regional qualifier from a year ago, the Rams returned several players and thoughts of the team's first district title since 2003 didn't seem out of reach.
What Bowley didn't expect, however, was the emergence of two new faces in freshman Tyler Doman and senior transfer Chris Crouch, both of whom would help lead Strasburg to the cusp of a regional berth. With the Bull Run District tournament match just one week away, Strasburg will advance to its first regional tournament in seven years with either a win next Thursday or a second-place finish to regular-season champion Madison County.
"I think we are pleased," Bowley said. "Last year we were really young, but we had everyone returning this year, so coming in certainly I think we had higher expectations. It's been nice that I think our kids have done what's been expected of them and we've been more competitive."
Following a fifth-place finish in the Bull Run District last season, expectations may not have been very high from those outside the program. But Bowley and his team knew the potential was there, and over the past few months that potential has been revealed.
Part of Strasburg's re-emergence in the district has been the play of Doman, a tall, lanky freshman who is deceptively powerful off the tee. Despite his slender figure, Doman hits his tee shots with above-average ferocity, using the power in his long legs to drive the ball down the fairway.
With such a promising skill set at a particularly young age, Bowley took notice of Doman last season as an eighth-grader and made sure when he entered high school he'd suit up on the team.
"He's been a very nice addition to our team," Bowley said. "We were aware of him a year ago, so he's been a pleasant addition and has helped us all year long."
Despite the kind words from his coach, Doman is still quite young for the sport and has used this season to absorb as much praise and criticism as possible from some of his older teammates, particularly Davis, who has made it known that despite his teammate's promising high school career, there's still work to be done on the course.
"He's doing good, I guess," Davis said with a smile, Doman only a few steps away. "He needs to slow down still, especially on his putting. He needs to step back and read the putts more, take more time with those. But other than that, he hits the ball really good."
And while Doman adjusts to the grind of competing at the high school level, the most promising aspect of his game is the improvement he's shown since the start of the season. At a nine-hole match against George Mason on Aug. 12, Doman shot a 45, just two strokes behind team-leading Davis' 43.
Less than a month later, however, it was Davis who found himself trailing Doman. At a nine-hole dual meet against Madison County, Doman finished with the Rams' top score, shooting a 42, while Davis still clung to a 43.
"It's been fun just because I know [Strasburg] didn't do very well last year and I came in, and we added a couple more people and we starting playing well," Doman said. "So it's kind of made me feel good that once I came in, we started playing better and had a chance to do something."
Doman admitted the toughest part about adjusting to the high school level has been the rigorous practice schedule, but said that has only allowed him to improve his game at a more rapid pace.
Another golfer new to the Rams this season hasn't had to worry about adjusting to the rigors of high school golf, only having to wear purple and white rather than his familiar black and orange. After transferring from Tabb High School, Crouch has been a change of pace for the Rams and is playing his best golf the past few weeks.
"He hasn't helped us as much all year long, but he has helped us at times and right now he's playing better," Bowley said. "He shot a 43 [Monday] so he's helping us and we think he can help us in the district tournament, too, so he's been a nice addition that we didn't really expect."
Whether they're new to the program or have been at Strasburg for some time, the Rams have found success this season and, after a second-place finish in the regular season, are in position to grab the school's first regional berth in more than five years.
"We've been more competitive and that's where we want to be," Bowley said. "I give a lot of credit to our kids for responding, getting better and being competitive."