The contrasting approaches of the Johnson High boys and the Gainesville High girls golf teams prove there’s more than one road to success in sports.
While the Knights are focused intensely on their goal for the season — finally getting to the state tournament — the Lady Elephants are taking it one hole, one round and one day at a time.
“The thing we want to do is be ready and be playing well when it’s time for region,” Johnson coach Jeff Steele said.
Gainesville coach Clay McDonald guides his team a little differently.
“We’re just going to prepare for each tournament like the one before it,” he said. “I don’t want to build anything up bigger than it is and add more pressure.”
Considering the success both teams have had lately, it’s hard to find a flaw with either philosophy, as both teams won their third consecutive Hall County title Tuesday at Royal Lakes Country Club in Flowery Branch.
Leading the charge for the Knights was individual low medalist Grant Cagle, a senior, who like his coach, was more focused on 3-pointers than chip shots less than two weeks ago.
Cagle, a starting forward for the Knights, and Steele, who is also the boys basketball coach at Johnson, helped lead their team into the second round the state playoffs before being eliminated March 3. But it didn’t take long for either to turn their full attention to the golf course.
“I only had four days to practice before the Hall County (tournament),” Cagle said. “But in some ways that may have helped me. I wasn’t thinking about it as much, so I wasn’t as nervous.”
When he took the course, Cagle showed no rust or nerves, shooting even par on the first day and two-under on Tuesday to finish with a two-day total of 70, four strokes ahead of North Hall’s Landry Haynes. Other top individuals on the boys’ side included Gainesville’s Parks Brown (75), Johnson’s Luke James (76) and North Hall’s Jackson Berry (77).
Cagle said he was happy to go out on top, but the team’s success — both at the Hall County Championships and in the future — was his primary focus.
“It feels great, but our main goal is to make it to state,” he said. “That would mean more to us than anything.”
Steele knows competition will be stiff when the teams come together for the Region 7-AAA tournament April 21 at Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega. The Knights (301) beat second-place Gainesville (313) and third-place North Hall (317) with relative ease in the county tournament, but that doesn’t guarantee future success.
“We know they’re going to come back strong,” Steele said. “North Hall and Gainesville are both very good, and so is Lumpkin County, and the region tournament is on their home course.”
While the Gainesville girls didn’t have basketball cutting into the practice time of their coach and top player, the Lady Elephants weren’t without their own obstacles in the county championships.
Cole, a senior who has now won four Hall County individual titles, hadn’t played competitively since tearing her ACL and meniscus in December. She had surgery to repair the knee ligament damage in January and says she’s still “nowhere close” to 100 percent.
Nonetheless, her two-day total of 84 was enough to best second-place finisher Malorie Smith of West Hall by eight strokes.
Gainesville’s Lila Kate Cooley and Susan Frobos tied with Johnson’s Carly Robertson for third place with a 106.
Cole, who was cleared to play again one week before the Hall County tournament, said the limited range of motion caused by the injury may have actually helped her game.
“Mentally, I was a little bit out of it, but I was actually hitting the ball a little better,” she said. “I’d always had a problem straightening out my right leg on my backswing, and obviously, I can’t do that now.”
Led by Cole, the Lady Elephants built a five-stroke lead on Monday, then improved by eight strokes on Tuesday and finish at 188. West Hall (201) took second and Johnson (214) finished in third.
And though McDonald would like to keep his team concentrating on the here and now, Cole admitted it’s hard not to look ahead.
“Getting to state for a second year in a row,” she said, “that would be huge for us.”