By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL - Central High School senior Ben Kline peered through the steady, blowing rain as he got ready to tee off in Monday's 3A East Region golf tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.
As Kline swung downward to connect with the ball, something that never happens, happened - Kline's hand slipped off the club and his opening shot sailed awry.
Tone setter? Oh, yeah.
With conditions for the hastily reconfigured shotgun start (the tournament started two hours late due to the rainfall) starting with a heavy rain before shifting to bright sunshine and gusty winds later on, it was hardly ideal conditions for most of the golfers on the course. That included Kline, who couldn't shake off a rough start in the rain and finished with an 81 to come up short in his bid to reach next week's state tournament. Kline said he was five or six shots over par by the time he finished the second hole.
"I had a terrible start because the rain was doing its thing," Kline said. "But overall the day was just average, worse than average. The first couple holes where with hands slipping didn't set a good tone for the day."
Defending Group A state champion William Monroe claimed the team title with a combined 313, 12 strokes better than runner-up New Kent. Both teams advance to next week's Class 3A state tournament at Heritage Oaks in Harrisonburg. William Monroe's Logan Yates delivered an impressive 1-under-par 71 to win the individual championship.
None of the five area golfers in the field will be heading to Harrisonburg next week. Lafayette's Evan Johnson locked up the final at-large spot by beating Kettle Run's Jeremy Cates in a two-hole playoff after both carded 78. Also advancing as individuals were York's Connor Rinoski (who won a playoff for second), Brentsville's Lance Keiser, Southhampton's Brandon Munford, and Loudoun Valley's Ian Hildebrand and Brandon Weaver.
Central's Joseph Plauger fired an 82 in his first regional appearance. For Plauger, it was the end of a long first season playing high school golf. Plauger opened with a par on the tough par-4 Blue No. 4, but his putting and short game simply "weren't happening."
"I think I was just physically kind of worn down," Plauger said. "I really haven't played this much golf in a while. Before playing [at Central], once a week was the most I ever played. So four times a week, every week for two months, just kind of wore me down, I think."
Teammate Jacob Allwine, like Kline a senior, was hoping for a bit more in his return to regional play after missing the tournament last year. He finished with an 83 and also had his struggles with his irons and putter on the rapidly changing course.
"It's hard to adjust to the speeds - slow and then back to lightning fast," Allwine said. "Chipping and putting, it was a real struggle."
Central coach Jeff Walters said the tough conditions affected everyone on Monday.
"It was rough for everybody - you talk about rain coming down, absolutely ripping," Walters said. "Ben's first shot right off the tee, his hand's slipping - it kind of set the tone. He just tried to battle and stay in there and try and get something in the 70s, and wasn't able to do that. It was a tough field and a tough day. The year ends for us, but overall I'm pleased to get three guys to regionals. This has been a great team."
Skyline's two individual qualifiers, seniors Robbie Belanger and Ben Andrews, also failed to advance. Belanger, who finished with a 97, struggled from the start during the rainy portion of the day, and then hit another rough patch midway through the tournament.
"I looked forward to today," Belanger said. "I never really get to play in the rain, so I thought, 'Might as well try and make the best of it.' We didn't get to warm up really as much as we wanted to, but it cleared up real nice after about the fifth or sixth hole. But I could've played a lot better than I did. I started off bad, then just got progressively better as the day went on."
Andrews finished one shot better with a 96, but was hoping for something more in the 80s range in his final high school tournament. Andrews had never before played in the rain, and it was an experience he won't forget.
"It was more of like a tropical storm on top of us, but it got progressively better," Andrews said. "I didn't get my two pars until 17 and 18."
Hawks coach Colin Miller was glad the two seniors made it to regional play, and hopes their example will be something for the rest of the team to build on next year.
"I think mentally they got blocked at the beginning by the rain," Miller said. "I don't know if that means we should go out and practice in the rain, but it hasn't rained for the last two months so we didn't get a chance to do that. But I'm proud of the boys. They've been on the team for a few years, and to make it to the regional tournament has got to be satisfying for them their senior years."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>