If Wednesday's golf match was Kyle Niemann's last of the season, he blames himself. But the Northern sophomore viewed the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference tournament as a chance to redeem himself and to help his team show it is ready for the state tournament.

He was successful on both counts.

"I was really disappointed that I didn't shoot 81 at districts," said Niemann, who needed that score to ensure a spot as an individual competitor in the state tournament. "Really, shooting 81 shouldn't be a big deal for me at this point.

"I just had to put that behind me and hoped I could finish off my season on a good foot."

Niemann shot a 1-over-par 71 at Twin Shields Golf Club, his home course, for a one-stroke individual victory over a group that included teammates Sam Hoffer and Jeff Kingsbury and La Plata's Cody Burch.

The Patriots carded a 292 by placing four golfers in the top six and got a measure of revenge against La Plata (309), which had beaten them handily at Swan Point in their regular season match and at the district tournament in the past month.

Northern Coach Rob Halstead said his lineup for the state tournament hasn't been settled -- it will be decided by an intrasquad playoff. Halstead said the open spot is a sign of the Patriots' depth.

"When we're focused on what we have to do, like we were today, we can be as good as anyone," he said. "I'd take my four, my five or my six guys against any else's in the state."

He will get that chance tomorrow as Northern and La Plata represent the SMAC in the state tournament at the University of Maryland Golf Course.

The 4A/3A semifinals will be tomorrow, with the 2A/1A semifinals Tuesday and the finals Wednesday. Thursday will be the rain day.

A year ago, Northern held a first-day lead on that course before watching Churchill take the state crown with an impressive final round. Northern and La Plata are considered state title contenders. But awaiting them is a 6,308-yard, tournament-ready course.

"Our goal has been to contend for a SMAC title and be ready for states," Halstead said. "I think the Maryland golf course sets up a lot better for us because our kids can hit a lot of drivers."

Five Southern Maryland players not on the La Plata or Northern teams will also compete in the state tournament -- McDonough's Cam Fuller and Justin Gragg, Chopticon's Clay Gurwell, Leonardtown's Daniel Blundell and Calvert's Ralph Baker.

Northern's Hoffer averaged a 35 this season. Other SMAC qualifiers who averaged under 40 are Kingsbury (37.5), La Plata's Vincent Hancock (37), Burch (38.8), Jay Dove (39) and Daniel Barnas (39.6), and Patuxent's Andrew Wiley (37.8).