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High school golf: Hall County trio look to conquer intangibles for success at the state tournament
Gainesville's Brigham Ralston tees off on No. 14 during the Hall County championships on March 22, 2023 at the Chattahoochee Golf Club. Photo by Lee Heard For The Times

Like a lot of other sports, intangibles will be a big key for all of Georgia’s boys and girls competing at the Georgia High School Association’s State Golf Championships at various venues early next week.

That includes three teams from Hall County – the Gainesville and Cherokee Bluff boys and North Hall girls – vying for their respective classifications’ state titles in the 36-hole tournaments Monday and Tuesday.

And all three do appear to be entering next week with one very important intangible on its side, with the Red Elephants, Bears and Lady Trojans all apparently hitting their strides at the right time of the season.

That is particularly true for Gainesville’s boys after posting the best score among all Class 6A team during the area tournaments by carding an impressive 291 to edge fellow state qualifiers Johns Creek and Blessed Trinity for the Area 4-6A title earlier this month.

And despite having to fill a hole left by the graduation of last year’s individual state champion Ryan Davidson and adjust to a new coach in Jason DeJiacomo, the Red Elephants still have a formidable roster that includes returnees Brigham Ralston, Henry Kopydlowski and Shay Mangalat from last year's Class 7A state runner-up team, as well as newcomers like Colin Henderson, which should put them in good position heading into the Class 6A tournament at Pine Lakes Course at the Jekyll Island Golf Club.

“Not to try and get ahead of myself, but the guys haven’t been as consistent as they’ve preferred to be, but that’s golf,” DeJiacomo said. “I definitely feel good. The guys are feeling good. We’ve been playing a lot the last couple of weeks just to kind of keep the game sharp, and obviously, we want to keep our confidence. So, the more you play, the more confidence you keep.”

Cherokee Bluff boys coach Brian Pope says his team is in a similar situation as Gainesville.

With five of his six top players back off of last year’s Class 3A third-place team, including seventh-place finisher Caleb Vancil, the Bears appear to be a contender in this year’s 4A tournament.

But it’s that consistency that DeJiacomo alluded to about his team that Pope says will be the biggest key for his when it tees off Monday and Tuesday to challenge other favorites like Westminster, Lovett, North Oconee, Pace Academy and host Starr’s Mill at Whitewater Creek Country Club in Fayetteville.

“We haven’t put four scores together all year, and we’re going to have to do that to do well in the state tournament,” Pope said. “We’ve got really stiff competition in t 4A class. We’re playing good. T.J. Harris is our leading player at this point. Caleb Vancil was All-State last year. Jackson Wyrick’s our third player. So, we’ve to the talent to do it. We’ve just got to put some numbers together.”

That said, confidence and momentum are just two intangibles that play a factor for Hall County’s three representatives and other teams competing for a state title.

The others include some that the players and coaches will have some degree of control over.

Among those is getting players some familiarity with courses that they haven’t played much before, and which could otherwise play to the advantage of host schools, such as Starr’s Mill in the boys and girls 4A tournaments.

That is one area North Hall girls coach Rodney House hopes to address by playing a practice round at Braelinn Golf Club in Peachtree City this weekend prior to Monday’s opening round.

And having an experienced team led by top-10 finishers from last year in Makayla Jones and Lillie Mallis, as well as Morgan Whidden, should help the Lady Trojans’ comfort level with the course.

“Makayla Jones, this coming Saturday will be her fourth time playing that course,” House said. “So she’s been down there a few times. All my girls, as of this Saturday, will have already played that course twice. We’ve got some notes on it. We have some people that have played out there before that kind of help us out with some things that maybe we don’t realize.

“Then, I’ll get to walk the course on Saturday, so I will actually get to see how we need to set up the things that we want to do and how we want to place the ball.”

Then there are some other X factors that are either partially or completely out of anyone’s control, such as weather conditions, how teams adjust to the iWanamaker live scoring and leaderboard app to record scores from hole-to-hole in real time, which will be utilized by the GHSA for the first time in this year’s championship tournaments.

And of course, there is the factor that every high school athlete in every sport has to deal with, but one, as DeJiacomo points out, that won’t be limited to only the Hall County teams.

“It’s state, so you’ve got to expect some nerves to be the biggest factor early on,” DeJiacomo said. “But that will be the case for every team.”
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