Two things are needed to have a successful golf team -- skill and strategy -- and in Virginia's Northern Region you will find them both.
But while you will find similar levels of skill on the teams expected to perform well this season, it could be the vastly different strategies that will actually determine the title holder at the season's end.
For the second consecutive year, Madison and South Lakes will vie for the championship of the Great Falls District, with the regional and possibly state championships hanging in the balance. Last year the teams tied for the regular-season title, but after Madison defeated South Lakes during the season they lost to them for the district tournament title.
Madison, which rallied to finish as runnerup in both the region and the state, is hopeful that this season will be an improvement. They realize, however, they will have to get past South Lakes to do it.
That is where strategy will come into play.
The Warhawks lost three seniors to graduation, yet a shot at the state title remains a very realistic goal. The main reason for this optimism is the return of junior Troy Thompson, last year's state second place medalist.
"Troy was really the one we relied on last year," said Coach Don Roth of the 2-handicapper. "He had an excellent summer and has a real good attitude about the game of golf this year. Troy is really going to be one of the better ones."
In addition to Thompson, Roth has some experience returning in junior Steve Mosley and has picked up a couple of freshman whom he feels will considerably alleviate the loss of his seniors.
"The two freshmen are really going to be good," claims Roth about Jeff Knight and Jason Peterson. Both have looked excellent in the early going, he says. "These aren't common freshman."
Madison took both the Lake Braddock Invitational and the Quantico Invitational tournaments early this season, winning Quantico with the lowest score by a team in 19 years (635, 8 players). But, according to Roth, that doesn't mean much.
"We had a good start once before and it didn't go so far," he said. He admits though that Madison "has the potential to be a real good team."
Roth is counting on the play of his top four players to carry the squad throughout the season. On any day, one or two of his lower three players is capable of hitting a 38 or 39, he says. And he's banking that those scores combined with Thompson's will be enough to win his matches.
The game plan is just fine with Thompson who has his sites on individual and team state titles.
"I just have to play my own game and pray that the rest of the team plays good," said Thompson.
In contrast to Roth's strategy is that of South Lakes' coach Vince Mosconi.
"The key is depth," claims Mosconi, whose team returns all but one player from last season.
According to Mosconi, "If you've got four good players then you have a good team; if you've got six then you have a very good team. I've got eight or nine."
The Seahawks will be led by junior Chris Cazalas, who qualified for regionals as a freshman, and senior Peter Knapp. Mosconi describes his top two performers as "consistently excellent."
But the coach is quick to mention that his team has no superstars.
"On most teams you pick one or two guys to carry the team; I can't do that," he said. "On any given day any one of my players could win the tournament."
For this reason, Mosconi claims to have a difficult time figuring out who will play. The one thing he is certain of is that "the key in the Great Falls District is going to be who's best between Madison and South Lakes."
Other than the district incumbents, Langley is expected to play well this fall behind talented sophmores Jason Pool and Kenny Kuhler. Talented Kenny Gude of McLean should also contend for individual honors.
In the Northern District, Lake Braddock and Robinson are once again the favorites. Seniors Joe Ahill, Mike Graves and Adam Butler are playing the best golf for Lake Braddock, but Bruins' coach Gary Reedy is wary, stating, "Most of my guys are still shooting eight or nine strokes higher than I expected."
Robinson is led by Quantico medalist Tim Hummel and Jason Dunn, but may not have the fourth scorer needed to make an impact as a team.
West Springfield is also expected to be strong.
In the Potomac District, Annandale, Fairfax, and Yorktown will once again be the teams to beat. Fairfax seniors Shane Smutz and Chris Darius are expected to help carry the Rebels, while Yorktown has a little more experience, led by regional qualifiers John Woody and Paul Avis. Fairfax coach Milt Papke feels that his team's early match against Yorktown will go a long way in determining the season champion.