By Tommy Keeler Jr.
NEW MARKET -- Jonathan Koontz learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
The Stonewall Jackson rising senior played too much golf going into his junior season, which led to a couple injuries that hampered his success.
This offseason, Koontz decided to scale things back a little and he's starting the season completely healthy.
"I just think that I pushed myself a little too hard," Koontz said of last year's offseason. "I guess it happens with all athletes when you push yourself too hard. This is definitely a grueling sport."
Koontz had a sterling sophomore season, in which he finished as the No. 2 player on the Generals and helped lead Stonewall Jackson to the regional tournament.
In the offseason he decided to play in a bunch of tournaments. He said he spent a lot of weekends over the summer in Williamsburg at tournaments and sometimes would hit hundreds of balls over the course of a week.
Then he hyper-extended his knee early in his junior season. Koontz battled through that, but then sprained his elbow at the Shenandoah County tournament last year. He wasn't able to play again until the regional tournament.
"It was definitely tough," Koontz said. "I'm used to playing every day year round, so to just have to stop cold turkey, and I basically turned into an assistant coach instead of a player -- it was definitely a different look at it."
Stonewall Jackson coach Roger Wilkins said even when Koontz was out, he was very helpful to the other players.
Koontz was able to come back and help the Generals to a second-place finish in the Group 2A state tournament.
"We had a good run at it," Koontz said. "It's obviously not what any of us wanted. I think given a little bit different circumstances maybe could have come out with a different result. But second in the state is definitely something to be proud of. It's something that we can share and we'll be able to tell our kids one day when they're sitting here about to try out for the varsity sports."
Koontz said he began playing golf when he was 7, and just fell in love with the sport.
He was Stonewall's team manager in eighth grade, and by his sophomore season his game started to really grow. Koontz said he also works a lot with John Rogers, a club pro at Lakeview Golf Club in Harrisonburg.
"He's a very smart kid. He knows the game very, very well. He knows the technique of the swings. So he can help the kids a lot," Wilkins said. "He's got the desire to get better. Obviously, he's put in the time and the work. He loves the game."
Andrew Good has been at the top for Stonewall Jackson the last few years, but he graduated in June and Koontz will be taking over the leadership role and as the team's top player. The Generals open their season today in a Shenandoah District mini-tournament at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton at 8:30 a.m.
Wilkins said Koontz is a perfectionist, and if he learns to not put too much pressure on himself he could have a really strong year.
"You have to be able to take it one shot at a time, and not let one bad shot affect another," Wilkins said. "That's the hardest thing to do in golf. If Jonathan could reach that and with his personality and his thinking, I think he could really grow this year and his scores could be better then he could even imagine."
Koontz said he's excited for the season. The Generals lost a lot from last year's squad, but still have three from the top six back. Koontz, along with Ben Rosenberger and Kory Somers, will have to lead the way.
"It will definitely be a different dynamic," Koontz said. "It will put a little more pressure on the seniors and the returning guys to shoot some good scores since we don't have the same depth. I don't think it will be a weak season by any means."
Koontz said he plans on going to Virginia Tech next year and major in engineering. He said he's not worried about playing golf, school comes first, and he knows no matter what he will be playing the game of golf for a very long time.
"That's probably the most beautiful thing about this game. Like Sunday I went out and played with my dad and uncle and Ben [Rosenberger]," Koontz said. "Even though [my dad and uncle] are about 40 years older than I am, when it comes down to it you're still grinding for the same putts and trying for that center tee shot. As you age your abilities might shrink, but your knowledge grows so they kind of counteract each other. I could definitely see me playing this until I get really old, and then you get put in a nursing home and probably just watch it on TV."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd