Upbeat Wilkins led Generals to strong season

By Jeff Nations

QUICKSBURG — Andrew Good will always remember Roger Wilkins and his bucket of golf balls.

During a practice early this season, Wilkins marched his Stonewall Jackson golf team out to the green behind the No. 8 hole at Shenvalee Resort. Bucket in hand, Wilkins promptly dumped the contents onto the playing surface and instructed his team to start making putts. It was the latest in a series of putt drills Wilkins devised for his team during the season, all with the aim of helping them improve their short game while having some fun doing it.

That tireless drive to help his team — through work, through his always upbeat personality, through steady encouragement and unfailing confidence in their ability to succeed — that’s what Wilkins’ players most enjoyed about playing for him this season.

“Coach Wilkins isn’t the most golf knowledgeable person in the world, but he knows sports 100 percent,” Stonewall Jackson senior Colton Harlow said. “Probably one of the smartest, athletics-wise, persons I’ve ever met. He just knows what to do. He makes us work, and that’s what we did this year. He always has a positive attitude. That’s the one thing that really stands out with coach Wilkins.”

Wilkins, who led the Generals to a runner-up finish at the Class 2A state tournament this year, is quick to acknowledge his golfing background isn’t the strongest. He may not be able to break down the mechanics of a swing like a professional, but Wilkins gave much more to the Generals than pure technical knowledge. In many ways, he served as a spiritual leader for the team.

“He’s the kind of coach that you want to do good for,” Generals senior Andrew Good said. “Like you want to go out there and do your best, for him — not for you — for him.”

More often than not, Stonewall did just that this season. The Generals flashed impressive depth throughout the regular season while rolling through the Shenandoah District and on into the newly-formed Conference 35 tournament.

A pivotal day for Stonewall actually came during that regular season in a tournament hosted by Spotswood. Breaking from the traditional format of threesomes or foursomes, the tournament featured a modified match play style where two golfers from each team played in a group throughout the day. Stonewall won it, 2-0, on the strength of its Nos. 3 and 4, and Nos. 5 and 6 players.

“That for me was a turning point in a way because they got to work together as individuals,” Wilkins said. “They could look back at each others’ putt and say, ‘This is what it’s going to do, and all that.’ It started to build even more cohesiveness within the team.”

Stonewall ended up winning the Shenandoah District regular-season title on the strength of its finishes during the mini-tournament slate. It was just the first on a list of goals the team was aiming to accomplish.

“We set our goals early,” Wilkins said. “Everyone said the district doesn’t matter anymore because of the conference or whatever, and we immediately said, ‘That’s great. We don’t do anything without trying to win.'”

In the Conference 35 tournament at Harrisonburg’s Heritage Oaks, the Generals put it all together for a dazzling six-stroke victory. Good, Stonewall’s No. 1, shot a career-best 68 to win medalist honors. Harlow also fired a career-best 74, Kory Somers shot his best round ever with a 78, and even Jonathan Koontz — playing 18 holes for the first time in weeks as he dealt with an arm injury — posted an 82.

Stonewall stayed right on course the following week, winning the weather-shortened Region 2A East tournament at Kiskiack in Williamsburg with a combined 159. Good and Harlow led the way with 39s, Koontz fired a 40 and Ben Rosenberger tallied a 41 to provide the scoring.

Back near home for the Class 2A state tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal, the Generals opened with a solid first day to grab a share of the team lead with Graham. The second day didn’t go Stonewall’s way, however, as Graham pulled away for a seven-stroke victory to deny the Generals’ a 10th state golf championship.

“Yeah, we were disappointed,” Wilkins said of the runner-up finish. “We were very, very upset because we expected to win. If anything else, that’s what we as a team established — the fact that we went there to win. We weren’t going there for anything else.”

Wilkins helped his team turn the page within a couple hours with a dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s in Front Royal by focusing on how much the Generals accomplished this season.

“We talked about it — you know, hey, we were second out of however many teams in Virginia,” Wilkins said. “I said, ‘That’s a great accomplishment.’ And they felt that way, too. We just moved on. It was like that — we just accepted it. But it hurt, and there’s nothing wrong with hurting. You’re striving for a goal in your life, and you don’t meet that goal then it’s going to hurt. You pick yourself back up and you go on. And that’s what we did.”

Good credits Wilkins with instilling that positive attitude in the team this season, an approach that combined hard work with real fun and camaraderie.

“We all love playing for him,” Good said. “We all love him, as a person. He’s a great guy, always upbeat, getting us excited about stuff. He’s always motivating us — never, never down, just always up. He’s always pushing us. He believes in us. He knows what we can do, and that helps us realize what we can do. He’s just a great guy.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>