It was pretty much over for Severna Park senior Mitch Van Zandt in a golf match at Marlton Golf Course in Upper Marlboro last week. The team captain's ball pushed to the right off the 8th tee and landed in a hazard. A bogie appeared inescapable.
Yet Van Zandt kept his composure, chipped his ball out of the hazard, hit it onto the green and knocked in the 15-foot putt for par.
"Mitch has great ability to recover," said Severna Park Coach Paul Pellicani. "All players get in trouble, but it's the really good players who recover. He finds a way to pull it out."
Van Zandt's resolve is indicative of the style of play the Severna Park golf team has shown so far this season. Pellicani has been stressing perseverence to make his players more comfortable and prepared when pitfalls occur. "You don't hammer it into them," said Pellicani. "But you throw in an occasional anecdote for them to not get discouraged and realize that there's still a lot of golf to play."
Last season the Falcons were the dominant team in Anne Arundel County. When a team wins a match, it is awarded 3 points. Second place is worth 2 points, and third place nets 1. With a total of seven matches, Severna Park finished with 20 points.
On top of that, the Falcons won the division and county championships in the same year, something that had never been done in the school's history.
This year, Pellicani has inherited a much greener team: His two top players graduated, and seven of his 10 players are underclassmen.
"It's a challenge to reload and get back to the same level," Pellicani said.
And the Falcons have met that challenge head-on. With four matches played at press time, Severna Park had tied for first twice and finished second twice, to Broadneck. That leaves the team with a total of 10 points and, weather permitting, five more matches to play.
Two players in particular have anchored the team this year: Van Zandt and sophomore Kelly Lynch.
Van Zandt has the lowest scoring average in the county among males, and has finished two out of the four matches under par. Yet it's his leadership and his appreciation of his teammates that stand out most.
"[Our success] hasn't been too hard because we've got a real solid base. We have three returning seniors and quite a few young, talented players," Van Zandt said.
Lynch, whom Pellicani dubbed the "neatest surprise of the year," had set out to shoot in the 30s this season and is doing just that. The last three matches she's shot 38, 37 and 39, respectively.
"I'm surprised about the contributions from the young players; they're 14 or 15 years old and playing well. That's definitely a bonus," Van Zandt said.
Despite the expectations and the surprisingly strong play, the team itself hasn't been absorbed with winning.
Before the season began, Severna Park athletes in all fall sports were asked what they thought would make a successful year.
Pellicani pulled his three seniors into his office and posed the question to them, and they told him they wanted to win the Falcon academic award, the award given to the Severna Park team with the highest cumulative grade-point average.
"That spoke volumes about the kinds of kids we have," said Pellicani. "They then told me they wanted to win the district, county and states. They're setting high goals and working very hard to reach them."
The notion of winning states this year will be a real challenge, one the Falcons couldn't pull off even during their stellar streak last season. In addition, this year the team has a formidable opponent in Broadneck. "Broadneck is definitely the team to beat this year," said Pellicani.
Three-time All-Met Stephanie Connelly of Northeast also will provide challenges throughout the season.
However, Van Zandt realizes that's a concern that's far down the road. "Obviously, every team would like to win the state championship," he said. "But we need to keep our focus and take it step by step."