Warriors rebuilding after big departuresPublished 9:33pm Thursday, August 21, 2014
It is a new world for the Nansemond River High School golf team this year after four of its top six players graduated in June, and the Warriors tackle a season without a clear No. 1 player.
In four matches so far, the team has already surpassed the number of losses it experienced during the entire 2013 regular season when it went 7-2, mostly against strong Southeastern District opponents.
NR coach Craig Stephenson described having faced Grassfield, Hickory and Great Bridge high schools this season as “a tough first three matches for a rebuilding year.”
Last season was far from such a year. Recent NR graduate Griffin Genier was his team’s No. 1 player then, became the individual 4A South regional champion and tied for second in the 4A state championships.
Genier, together with fellow graduates Bryce Strong, Ryan Sams and Caleb Knaack, helped make the Warriors a major power in the area and winners of the Ironclad Conference tournament by 115 strokes.
This year, “it’s going to be rough waters to begin with, like it has been,” Stephenson said.
The 2014 squad features one senior, three juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen.
“The majority of them have a good golf knowledge, but it’s teaching them how to score and play the game a little bit smarter,” Stephenson said, referring to what this year has been about for him so far. “We’ve improved by almost 50 shots in a week and a half.”
The Warriors are now 1-3, after notching a win over King’s Fork High School on Wednesday.
Stephenson has put three different players in the No. 1 spot this year — junior Ryan Fischer, senior Leo Outland and junior Brian Russell — as their scoring averages are within about two strokes of each other.
Fischer, who finished second to Griffin in the conference tourney last year, was Nansemond River’s and the match’s overall medalist on Wednesday, shooting an eight-over-par 80 at Sleepy Hole Golf Course.
“I expect a lot from Ryan,” Stephenson said, though he noted Fischer struggled in the first three matches.
Without the comfort of having Griffin’s reliable low score, “He’s the one that’s being counted on,” the coach said.
But Fischer is not the only one feeling the pressure. Of Outland and Russell, Stephenson said, “Both of them know that we need them to step up.”
The coach praised Russell for proving a lot this year.
“He’s solidified a top three spot for all the matches,” Stephenson said.
Junior Andrew Halmrast has not been playing golf long, but Stephenson sees great potential in him because of his rapid improvement within a year’s time and his passion for the game.
“He could very well end up being my No. 1 golfer by the end of the year,” the coach said. “He’s out there seven days a week, working on his game.”
Stephenson simply hopes his top players can conquer their nerves so they can succeed.
Nansemond River (1-3) visits Cahoon Plantation Golf Club on Monday to face Deep Creek High School.