By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- Motivation can be a great thing.
For Stonewall Jackson's golf team, it has been a key to success all season. Last year the Generals were celebrating a regional berth, with only a couple groups left to come in during the Shenandoah District tournament. East Rockingham's No. 6 player Malachi Dean came in with a 79 to help the Eagles win the tournament title and turn the Generals' celebration into disappointment.
That loss has been a driving force for the team throughout the offseason and during the regular season.
"It was rough last year because we all thought we had it," Stonewall Jackson sophomore Jonathan Koontz said. "All of us had already come in and we thought we already had it sealed. And then when the  from East Rock came in, it was just kind of really shocking to us. And we lost it by one I think, which is even worse. We really learned we don't like to lose a whole lot. We came out this year with a new kind of fire."
The Generals decided the best way not to let it happen again was to win the district regular season title and get the automatic Region B berth, and they did just that.
Today the Shenandoah District tournament will be held at Heritage Oaks in Harrisonburg, just as it was last year, but this time the Generals won't have to sweat out a regional berth.
"It was one of our goals so we would not be under as much pressure in districts, so we can just play," Stonewall Jackson's Andrew Good said. "I think that's when we do better -- when we just play and not put too much pressure on ourselves."
Good and Koontz are just two of the players who dedicated themselves in the offseason. Good gave up baseball, while Koontz gave up basketball, to focus on golf. The hard work has paid off, and the pair have been the top two on the squad throughout the season.
Stonewall Jackson coach Roger Wilkins said the whole team really focused in the offseason on becoming better players.
"All the players were doing something in the offseason," Wilkins said. "And then when the summer came, they stepped it up. They even got together and started playing some. Playing every day, and sometimes twice a day. It just carried over into the season. And I really think that contributed to the success this year."
The district title did not come easily. The Generals trailed Wilson Memorial by 10 strokes with only two district mini-tournaments left.
Stonewall Jackson was able to erase eight of those strokes with a tournament at their home golf course, Shenvalee.
In the final mini-tournament, the Generals beat the Green Hornets by nine strokes to win the district's regular-season title.
"When the pressure was on, they stepped up and didn't give up," Wilkins said. "We had some really good individual as well as team performances. We're really pleased."
One of the keys to the team is having depth. The Generals have most of the players back from last year's team, including Good and senior David Dodson, who were both regional qualifiers.
Koontz said it's a great feeling knowing that if you have an off day, your teammates will pick you up.
"I try not to pout too much pressure on myself, knowing that there's still people to back me up if I don't have it," Koontz said. "It's nice having these guys backing me up."
The Generals have experience, but they are also still a young squad, with only two seniors in the top six.
Even though Stonewall Jackson already has a Region B berth, the team is still motivated to win the district tournament.
"We're not going to slack off during the [district tournament]," Koontz said. "We still want to take home another trophy."
Last year was the first time in at least eight years the Generals did not qualify for the regional tournament. The players said it was important to try to start a new streak.
The Region B tournament will be held in two weeks at The Manor in Farmville. Dodson said it will be really nice having the whole team there, and he believes it will be a great experience no matter what the outcome is.
"It's going to be fun no matter what," Dodson said. "Win or lose, it will be fun. And that's all this team is worried about -- is having fun."