Chris Speaker knew he had just completed his best round of golf this season when he turned in his scorecard Tuesday at Swan Point Yacht & Country Club. What the Northern sophomore did not know until immediately afterward was that his teammates had done the same.
"We all knew we could play pretty good," said Speaker, who was part of the day's final threesome, "but I didn't know if we could all do it together."
Speaker's three-over 39 over nine holes was one of five Northern scores of 40 or lower, as the Patriots won a match pitting the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's three defending county champions. Northern's team score of 155 was two strokes better than La Plata, the two-time defending SMAC champion, and 11 lower than Leonardtown.
For two years, La Plata has been an albatross to the rest of the conference, not losing a single match. Opponents saw an air of invincibility around the Warriors.
"They've definitely been the team to beat," said Northern junior Sam Hoffer, who played in the top group and shot a 1-over 37, which matched La Plata senior Brent Martin and Leonardtown senior Steven Sapp for the best score of the day. "It's good to know it's a reality, that we can beat them. Last year . . . it was a joke playing La Plata. It was like, you know you can't beat them. It was a mental hurdle."
Northern won through its depth. After Hoffer, who placed 20th at the Maryland 4A/3A Tournament last year, there is much competition among the rest of the Patriots. Not only does each Patriot vie for one of the four top scores each match, but also for one of the five other spots in the team's lineup.
"Our team is very deep," first-year Northern Coach Rob Halstead said. "We have eight guys who shot in the 30s in practice this week. We have a lot of guys who can score for us. It's a matter of if they can do it in a match."
Northern's depth was critical Tuesday. Freshman Kyle Niemann, the Patriots' No. 3 player, was disqualified after turning in a scorecard with an error. Juniors Colt Miller (3-over 39) and Josh Yodikas (4-over 40) helped Northern overcome Niemann's voided round of 38.
"It's big," Halstead said, "because [in the past] every match you're resigned that [La Plata] is better than us."
La Plata was without its top player, senior Joe Gross Jr., a two-time Maryland 4A/3A champion who has missed nearly every match this season with an arm injury. It has forced each Warrior to move up a spot in the lineup and altered their approach to each match.
"I couldn't take the chances I usually do," Martin said. "My game is usually a risk-reward game. Lately, I haven't been able to play the game I wanted to, but I suppose everybody else had to, as well.
"Last year, we could afford someone not to play well one week because we had so much depth. Now, everybody has to play well."