2017 Golf Coach of the Year: Wadas guides Wildcats to best season in over a decade
FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School golf coach Matt Wadas likely felt like a broken record for the better part of the last decade, during which the term “rebuilding year” seemed to leave his mouth on an annual basis when referring to the state of the Wildcats’ program. Wadas was singing a different tune in 2017.
The Wildcats were as competitive as they’ve been since Wadas took over the golf program in 2007, when Warren County’s student body was split with the introduction of Skyline High School. This fall the Wildcats placed second as a team in the Region 3B tournament, and sent two golfers to the state tournament for the first time since the early 2000s.
Wadas said last week that this past season was “without a doubt” the best Warren County has had on the golf course since the school split, and it was a result about 10 years in the making.
“It was definitely some lean years there,” said Wadas, who noted that money played a role in golf’s declining participation numbers in the area during his first few years as the Wildcats’ golf coach. “It was a process of how do you get kids out for golf? That was something when I coach wrestling, I’ve coached football, I’ve coached track, it’s a completely different animal trying to get kids out on the golf course. It really feels good that we’ve been able to build back the program.”
The Wildcats did it with commitment, a value that Wadas said he’s been chasing since he took over the program and has gotten over the last few years with golfers like David Kelly, Michael Silek and Joey Sorge. Those three, all juniors, have been with the Warren County golf program since they were in eighth grade, Wadas said.
“I think that’s one of the big reasons we’ve had success is that consistency,” said Wadas, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Golf Coach of the Year. “Golf’s all about consistency. You get kids that wanna put in that extra time, a lot of time when practice is over they go out and play more.”
That in turn created internal competition this season that Wadas said the program had been lacking. The Wildcats had a clear-cut No. 1 this past season in senior Jacob Loughlin and were able to surround him with golfer ready and able to compete at the varsity level.
“This year we had seven or eight kids for six spots, so we had a competitive issue where if you had a bad day you might not be in the top six or the top four,” Wadas said. “(Senior Jacob) Loughlin set a strong standard for our No. 1 but people were trying to knock him off too. There was a, ‘Hey, we’re all friends but we wanna beat each other.’ And I think that spilled over when we played other teams and when we hit tournaments.”
Warren County had a lackluster showing at the Class 3 Northwestern District tournament held at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club – the Wildcats’ home course – on Sept. 26, placing fourth out of the five schools that fielded full teams while competing without Loughlin, who missed the tournament while catching up on schoolwork.
But the Wildcats came back and delivered in the Region 3B tournament held again at SVGC the following week. Sorge led the way with an 81, Loughlin carded an 83 and Kelly (85) and Silek (86) rounded out the scoring to give Warren County a total of 335 strokes, 14 behind regional champ William Monroe and five ahead of Skyline, which had placed second in the district tournament.
Wadas said he told his team to throw out its expectations ahead of the regional tournament and focus instead on individual performance after the poor showing at districts.
“I think that’s something I got from wrestling last year, is don’t focus on the event, focus on yourself, focus on your performance,” said Wadas, who added that Wildcats didn’t over-perform at the regional tournament but simply had its best collective round of the year. “I think that’s the best way to say it, is we just all had the right day, because I don’t wanna say, ‘Oh man, they shot scores that day that they’ve never shot.’ No, they had shot them all season, just not together. That’s something I’m gonna focus on next year, leading right into next year, is just focus on your game, your goal.”
Warren County’s regional success wasn’t enough to net a team trip to the VHSL Class 3 state tournament at Glenrochie Country Club in Abingdon (only one team advances from each region) but Loughlin and Sorge did qualify individually and placed 16th and 27th, respectively.
“That makes me proud for the school,” Wadas said of the golf team’s accomplishments. “Not just proud for those kids – really proud for the kids because they worked hard and they deserve it – but it makes me proud for our school too.”
With an all-out rebuild now in the rearview mirror, the hope for Warren County is that this past season’s success feeds upon itself. The Wildcats lose only two seniors in Loughlin and Preston Hudson, and return an experienced core that figures to include Sorge, Silek and Kelly, whom Wadas said quietly became one of the team’s most improved golfers during the course of the season.
“The kids are already talking about next year,” Wadas said. “…The fact that we had kids finishing strong and getting in the paper and doing great things, that makes it a different outlook next year.
“Also I think practices start to change. Whereas you’re working on some of the basics when we had a team hitting 100, now we can hit on the finer points. We can go out and do more fun and exciting competitive things when we have better kids. Hopefully that success will breed, bring more people in.”