The golf season wasn't going smoothly for Westfield senior Zach Spees and he wasn't pleased about it.

Last year's Northern Region champion and seventh-place finisher at the Virginia AAA championship struggled in the early going. He fiddled with his swing, a process he began in the summer.

"Over the past few years, my game has been steadily improving each year, but this year it had been at a much less drastic rate," Spees said. "It was not what I was expecting."

But with his performance at last week's Northern Region meet at Brambleton Golf Course in Ashburn, Spees might finally be meeting his expectations.

Spees made two birdies to force a sudden-death playoff with Chantilly sophomore Gabe Lainez for the individual title. Lainez hit two straight pars to win the championship, but it was clear that Spees had returned.

The change? Spees stopped worrying and just let it rip.

"I tried pretty hard for six months doing it the mechanical way," Spees said. "After I tried going back to feeling my way around the golf course, I instantly started playing better."

Westfield Coach Tim Vigotsky, too, has noticed an improvement in Spees's confidence.

"We always talk about things being in sync," Vigotsky said. "Your motion has to be in harmony and now, for Zach, it is. Whether you call it fluidity or something else, Zach is [swinging] the way he should be."

Spees's play, however, was unable to lift Westfield to a second straight Northern Region crown. That honor went to Lainez's Chargers, who also got strong performances from junior Joe Monte and sophomore Jake An, who finished third and fourth in the region, respectively.

That one-two-three punch should make Chantilly one of the favorites in next week's state championship. The Chargers certainly have had the edge over Westfield. Chantilly is 3-1 against the Bulldogs this season, including a win in the Concorde District championship.

"We're pleased with everything so far," Chantilly co-coach Scott Cronin said. "We've met pretty much all our goals. There's just one more goal there dangling in the woods. We just need to finish up strong."

Deep Run of Glen Allen has won the past two state championships, and will return to the tournament after winning the Central Region. Individually, the top returnee is also from Deep Run, senior Hunter Townsend. Townsend finished third last season.

Spees is confident that he can continue his strong play and better his finish from last year.

"I'm definitely looking for an improvement," Spees said. "Last year, I think I peaked a week too soon. This year, I'm right at it when it counts."

Westfield's Zach Spees narrowly missed defending his region title, losing in a playoff to Chantilly's Gabe Lainez.