HARRISONBURG — A grey, dreary day at Heritage Oaks Golf Course still ended with plenty of smiles from Strasburg’s golf team on Tuesday afternoon.
During an 18-hole round in which golfers had to withstand rain, wind and cool temperatures — and the elevated scores that came with them — the Rams weathered the conditions a little bit better than most, firing a collective 370 to win the Region 2B tournament championship. It was the first regional title in program history.
Strasburg, which edged runner-up Staunton by five strokes and advances to the Class 2 state tournament for the second year in a row, didn’t exactly look great while doing it. The Rams shot 30 strokes worse than they did on the same course a week ago en route to winning their second straight Bull Run District tournament championship, but it didn’t lessen the feat.
“At the end of the day it’s a regional championship and we’ll celebrate that and we’ll enjoy it,” said Rams head coach Joel Morgan, who was named the Region 2B Coach of the Year. “When the trophy goes in the trophy case, nobody can take it away from you.”
The accomplishment looms even larger considering that prior to last season, Strasburg had never qualified for the state tournament as a team. The Rams graduated five senior starters from that 2018 squad and yet still managed to one-up that performance, which included a runner-up regional finish to Wilson Memorial, a school that has since bumped up to Class 3 and won the Region 3C title earlier this week.
“We’re all really close together and being the first team to win regionals with this group of guys is great,” said Rams senior Drew Thomas, who finished second overall with an 83 (+13) on Tuesday. “I love every single one of them. It feels great.
“I think we proved to a lot of people what we were capable of. Even though we lost five seniors last year we still have a lot of depth. I think that’s what really helped us today, because the first couple scores, when they came in, it wasn’t looking too good. But our depth really showed. I think that’s what really separated us.”
Staunton (375), led by Mason Wyatt’s low-round 81, will join Strasburg at next week’s state tournament at Virginia Tech after placing second in a four-team race that included Stuarts Draft (third, 396) and Stonewall Jackson (fourth, 405).
Draft’s Ryan Riley (87) and Mark Rodgers (89) and East Rockingham’s Matthew Johnson (89) snagged the three individual state-qualifying spots open to golfers not on the top two teams.
Thomas, as he has for much of the season, led the way for Strasburg on Tuesday, though he was less than thrilled about his round and likened it more to just being able to “hang on” during an outing that featured plenty of lofty scores throughout.
It took about 5½ hours for the first group — which included Thomas — to complete the 18-hole round.
“I started off the back nine, on nine I three-putted for a double-bogey, so that kind of really set me back, and then I double-bogeyed 10. After that I was feeling pretty bad but I was able to turn it around,” Thomas said. “On 11, 12 and 13, I had three straight pars to kind of steady the ship a little bit, and then finishing off I had a birdie on 17, which really helped.”
Strasburg was able to create some distance between Staunton and Stuarts Draft when its Nos. 3 and 4, Chris Shelton and Corey Keller, carded scores of 94 and 93. Luke Mason, the Rams’ No. 5 golfer, reported what turned out to be the decisive score of 100.
Mason’s score helped mitigate the damage of a 106 fired by Strasburg No. 2 Colin Kosubinsky — who shot an 81 at Heritage Oaks a week ago to win the Bull Run District tournament — and eliminated the need to use Blake Anderson’s 105 as part of the team’s four-man total.
Morgan said afterward that Mason, like so many others, “battled it out, out there.”
“I told a few of our kids right when we started, you can’t come in at the end of the day and be wanting to make excuses (about the weather),” Morgan said. “You’re gonna have to be tough out here today and you just kind of figure the scores are probably gonna be a little elevated, but you’re gonna have to be the one that hopefully, in the end, maybe weathered it a little better than everybody else. I think for the most part we did.”
Stonewall head coach Brady Kibler, who had just one golfer shoot under 100 on Tuesday, also said the Generals wouldn’t use the poor playing conditions as an excuse for what he chalked up to just a rough day all around for his team.
Sophomore Emily Racer, playing as the Generals’ No. 2 on Tuesday, led Stonewall with a 96. Andrew Wymer shot a 100 for the Generals, followed by Henry Bull (103), Corey Jackson (104), Tucker Dorman (106) and Baylen Williams (125).
None of the Generals came close to an individual state-qualifying spot, though Kibler said Racer will try her hand at qualifying for the Virginia High School League Girls Open in a couple of weeks.
“I just think that collectively we just all had our worst day altogether,” Kibler said.
“It’s tough. It’s disappointing. I know they wanted to come out and shoot their best and give us a chance to move on but it just didn’t happen. That’s how golf is. You have days where everything’s clicking and you have days where nothing goes right. Unfortunately, that was one of those days and with the way that the playoff system is, you’ve got to be good that day. There’s no redo.”
Fortunately for Stonewall, which started three sophomores and two freshmen on Tuesday, most of the Generals return with a chance to build on this season’s success in 2020. This year was to be one of laying the foundation for Stonewall in Kibler’s first year, and Kibler said the Generals, the Bull Run District runners-up, accomplished everything they set out to do this season and then some.
“I’m super proud of the kids, just who they are. I’ve got a great group of kids that work hard, they want to get good. They make you proud on the course and off the course. too. I have 100 percent pride in every kid that I got out there,” Kibler said.
“We’re gonna build off this and take it into next year and see what happens.”
For Strasburg, its season continues for one more week with a trip next Monday and Tuesday to Virginia Tech’s Pete Dye River Course in Fairlawn, a course that Morgan said should be a “real treat” for the Rams.
Strasburg placed fifth as a team in last year’s state tournament, and Thomas said fourth place is a realistic goal for the Rams this season.
“We all know we can do better, and I think that’s the big thing,” Thomas said. “We’re still confident, we still believe in ourselves and we think we can place good in states.”