The biggest concern for Chris Gentile and Matt Buttgereit, the senior captains leading the Hylton golf team into this week's Virginia AAA state championship, is not the expansive 6,800-yard course at Raspberry Falls Golf and Hunt Club in Leesburg, nor its 10-foot bunkers, nor the forecast of sub-40-degree temperatures.
All those obstacles are secondary to Gentile and Buttgereit when compared with finding a way to convey a sense of urgency to their less experienced teammates.
"I've been trying to win this thing since I was a freshman," said Gentile, who is making his fourth state tournament appearance. "I know how the younger guys feel because when I was a freshman and a sophomore I thought I wanted to win it, too, but not like now. Now I really want to win. I want it so bad-ly." As he explained himself, Gentile closed his eyes and shook his head, seeming almost incapable of expressing with words his desire to win.
The two-day event starts tomorrow morning, with the top four scores from each school forming the team score each day. The school with the best two-day total wins.
This is Hylton's fourth state finals appearance in five years as a team; the Bulldogs came up 11 strokes short in 1996 and one stroke shy of the title in 1997. Gentile competed as an individual last year, but finished in the middle of the field.
Gentile and Buttgereit spoke pointedly to the team before Friday's practice.
"We told them not to take this for granted," Buttgereit said. "It's not easy to get to states, and they might not have another legitimate shot at winning it. We told them, but who knows if it sunk in. I guess we'll find out."
The two captains were disappointed in their teammates' scores at the Northwestern Region tournament near Roanoke last weekend. The team finished second behind Franklin County as Gentile finished fourth overall with a four-over-par 76 and Buttgereit shot 77. Sophomore Dan Powe shot 85, senior Brad Piper shot 86, junior Steve Fredericks shot 90 and freshman Joey Boivin shot 94, but it was good enough for a four-stroke margin over Albemarle and a state tournament berth. Senior Brian Piper, Brad's twin brother, will replace Fredericks in the first round tomorrow.
"We kind of knew we would get this far, but I didn't think Chris and I would have to carry the team to get there," Buttgereit said. "When I saw some of the scores coming in at regionals, I thought it was going to be an individual year for me and Chris."
Gentile said he did not enjoy going alone to the state tournament last year.
"When you go as an individual, everyone else is out there as a team and you don't really feel a part of what's going on," Gentile said. "I get to play as an individual during the summer. High school golf is a team sport."
The Bulldogs got their first look at Raspberry Falls on Thursday and left impressed.
"It's probably the most beautiful course I've ever played on," Gentile said. But the course's length--about 1,000 yards longer than Hylton's home course at Montclair--combined with its fast greens and huge bunkers leads Gentile and Buttgereit to believe scores will be high.
"There are not going to be that many birdies out there," Gentile said. "You're hoping for par on every hole on this course."
Oh, and there's the weather. As of yesterday, forecasters were calling for temperatures to be in the mid-30s early tomorrow, warming up to the mid-50s in the afternoon.
"It's hard to play in the cold," Buttgereit said. "The ball doesn't go as far, your hands get shaky, and it's hard to swing with an extra layer of clothing on."
In addition to Franklin County, the state tournament field includes Northern Region teams Fairfax and Langley.
"We have six players who are all capable of shooting in the 70s on a regular course," Gentile said. "Maybe not on this course, but I don't think there is another team in the state that has all six golfers capable of shooting 70s on a regular course. If we play smart, we should have a good chance to win it."
But having finished second before, neither Gentile nor Buttgereit wants anything less than first.
"This is it," Buttgereit said. "After this, high school ends. We want to have that ring on our fingers when it does."
Note: Osbourn junior Jonathan Sumner will compete in the Virginia AAA state tournament as an individual. He qualified by shooting a 77 at Monday's Northwestern Region tournament.