MONMOUTH – When the Monmouth-Roseville High School golf team opens its season Wednesday at Gibson Woods, it will do so with at least five seniors in the six-man lineup.
New head coach Jake Sottos – who was crowned the All-City golf tournament champion earlier this month – is pleased to not only have that level of experience on his first squad, but also to have daily competition to determine his varsity lineup.
“Everyone has to bring their ‘A’ game every night in practice,” said Sottos, who said seven of the Titans’ 13 players are vying for varsity spots. “It’s good to have that competition. Some of them get nervous about it, but that’s only helping you in the long run.”
The competition among the Titans got tighter when football was canceled for the fall. That allowed seniors Levi Birditt and Jack Thompson to go out for golf, and both are in the top-six mix, along with classmates Aden Armstrong, Noah Clark, Jimmy Connell and DJ Redding, and sophomore John Juszczyk.
Birditt, Connell, Redding and Thompson are also basketball players, a factor which helped Sottos decide to take the vacant head coaching position.
“I know a lot of the seniors because of basketball,” he said. “I’d talk a lot about golf with them when we had some free time at practice. They asked me if I’d coach them this year, and I thought ‘Why not?’ This is their senior year, so I’m hoping I can make it fun for them.”
It might not only be fun, but successful, if the Titans can shore up some of their weaknesses and develop consistency. Sottos said a big part of being consistent comes on the mental side.
“If you hit a bad shot, you’ve got be able to not dwell on it,” he said of the advice he’s been giving his players. “Just flush it, and get on with the next shot.”
For some Titans, ball-striking is their strength, while others have solid short games. Maintaining their strengths while improving on weaknesses such as sprayed drives and three-putts could carry the Titans to team scores of 340 or better for 18 holes.
A year ago, the Titans carded a 392 at the Quincy Notre Dame Regional and didn’t advance any individuals to the sectional round of the Class 2A tournament.
“We just need to work on staying focused, staying consistent,” Sottos said. “The idea is to just keeping better and not stay in the same rut. If we do that, we have guys who can consistently score in the mid-80s, the low-80s, even into the 70s.”
The Titans will post their first team score on Wednesday, when they tee off at 2:30 p.m. on their home course against Alleman and Galesburg. M-R will then travel to Macomb for a small invitational on Saturday. The Titans will host their own invitational in mid-September, although the date is yet to be determined.
“We can have 10 or 12 teams at an invitational, because even though there’s a 50-person limit, that’s 50 on the front nine and 50 on the back,” explained Sottos.
The first-time head coach can’t wait to get started.
“I know it’s COVID, and I know it’s a weird season, but at least we’re able to be out here doing something,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to it.”
Barry McNamara is the associate director of communications and marketing at Monmouth College and the former editor of the Monmouth Review Atlas. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org