ST. MARYS — Brandon Lawhon chuckles an appreciative laugh when he goes back and looks at everything that has changed for the St. Marys golf team in the past year. From zero regional qualifiers in 2018, to learning a new coach than winning a regional and state championship in 2019, to claiming another regional championship in 2020, he sometimes has trouble believing the road the team has traveled.
“Our expectations definitely weren’t as high as a state championship last year,” Lawhon said with a toothy grin. “We honestly didn’t think we would be back in this position this year. We also didn’t think this would be the team we had.”
“We knew it would be tougher because we had a big red target on our back,” Grant Barnhart added in a calm baritone in an interview at St. Marys Golf Club.
Despite being a marked team, head coach Catie Hamilton and her Blue Devils are back in a special position after the group fired a 222 to claim the Class A Region I championship at Oglebay’s Jones Course just last week.
If the team puts two more days like that together Tuesday and Wednesday, at the same course, it is likely they will receive the coveted state championship trophy once again.
It is also probable if that happens, Lawhon and Barnhart will have had a big say in said outcome.
Where many competing teams find themselves with just one golfer capable of shooting well, the Blue Devils have an advantage in their duo.
With the pair firing a combined 5-under par in the regional tournament, it is clear the two possess a rare comfortable feel for a “course that is different than any in the whole state because it is literally built into the side of a mountain,” according to Lawhon.
Their mental strength on an 18-hole grueling odyssey where “you are not going to hit shots that you would expect,” and ability to possibly positively recover from not only those shots, but “the great shots that could still end up in a bad position because of how the hills play,” according to Hamilton, provide huge advantages during what can be a physically and mentally-draining two days in Wheeling.
“I really thinks those things set us apart,” Lawhon, who along with Barnhart is noticeably stronger, smarter and more mature on any course, said.
Hamilton does as well.
So much so, that she already plans to follow her No. 3 and No. 4 golfers around the course instead of her top two golfers. “Overall, as a team I think we just remain so level headed and nobody gets bigger than the expectations. Everyone expects a lot out of us, but we never let it go to our heads.
“I have high expectations for Grant and Brandon and they know that,” Hamilton added. “What is more important is they have high expectations for themselves. They know what they can shoot and just have to go out there and play their game. They can remain strong and that is how we have a major difference. I definitely think if Grant and Brandon play as well as they know they can either of them can be contenders for medalist honors. It is so exciting.
“We can win the whole thing, too. We just need to go up there and focus on our games and playing to our strengths. That is going to be huge. Everyone needs to play to their best and if we can I think we can win.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE NO. 3 and NO. 4 GOLFERS
Lawhon and Barnhart may be critical pieces, but they aren’t the only ones who will need to perform well for St. Marys to lift the trophy. Brayden Hall’s and Ethan Bennett’s ability to navigate the giant that is Oglebay cannot go underestimated. Thankfully for the Blue Devils, the pair have the confidence of their teammates and have already shown a bit of a flair on the state tournament course.
Hall’s closeout eagle during his regional championship round brought roars from his teammates.
Bennett also has been right there with his teammate in terms of scoring and shot-making ability all season.
“They really handled Oglebay good for the first time, honestly,” Lawhon said.
Hamilton stresses the most important thing for the duo is their consistent physical and mental toughness. “A lot of tough shots and stress come from not having the experience. It is really important they understand the course and how to play it,” she said. “They proved they can put up good scores and now they just need to maintain the game they have played all year long.”
TITLE COMPETITION APPEARS WELL DEFINED
Based on scores alone, Williamstown and Moorefield appear the closest in terms of taking away the top prize from the Blue Devils. However, the Yellowjackets and Yellow Jackets each enter the state tournament with vastly different amounts of state tournament experience. As Xavier Caruthers and Gavin Bosgraf are the only ones with state experience for Williamstown, it could take his teammates time to adjust to the rigors and demands of walking up and down a mountain — not to mention the stress of dealing with the wonky shots bound to happen over two days of competition.
As for Moorefield, the Eastern Panhandle group can draw on their experience from last season. Though they finished in last place, any experience is good experience on a course notorious for causing trouble for first-time golfers.
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