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High expectations

Nansemond River golf coach Craig Stephenson has a problem, but it’s one he’s happy to have.

Unlike his first two seasons coaching the Warriors on the links, he has too many golfers for the six spots in his team’s matches, the opening match being Tuesday against Western Branch at Nansemond River Golf Club.

The Warriors had 14 golfers try out for the team. Stephenson’s formed a team of 10 players. The Warriors have five of their top six players from last season returning, but there is still competition for who will play, and in what slot.

With a big group of talented players, the Warriors are having important rounds before the first district match.

“The top three golfers are pushing each other and I’ve got three guys playing for the No. 6 spot and they’re basically within one shot of each other,” Stephenson said.

After completing tryouts, the Warriors are in the process of three rounds of intra-squad qualifying, something new for Stephenson and NR.

“I’m taking the top two scores from each player’s three rounds and that’s how we’ll set up for the first match,” Stephenson said.

Travis Johnson has been the No. 1 golfer for the Warriors the last two years, since his freshman year. Johnson reached the Eastern Region Tournament as an individual qualifier last season.

Shanice Mason was one of NR’s top four players last fall and reached the VHSL (Virginia High School League) Girls State Open for the second straight year.

Stephenson expects freshman newcomer Griffin Genier to join Johnson and Mason in his top three. Genier’s been playing in VSGA (Virginia State Golf Association) tournaments throughout the summer.

Jacob Foster and Will Hunter return from NR’s top six a season ago. Stephenson says both have worked a lot on their game during the offseason and both have improved by 10-15 shots.

“My expectations are very high. I think we should finish in the top three in the district and we should get a regional spot as a team,” Stephenson said.

The Warriors have finished fifth in the Southeastern each of the last two years.

“It relieves a lot of the pressure,” Johnson said. “when you know we’re going to have four good scores to win a match. It feels like we can beat any team out here.”

Johnson, starting first baseman for NR’s varsity baseball team, has been busy on the diamond through much of the summer. His season wrapped up with a college showcase event a couple weeks ago.

“The last couple weeks I’ve just been getting back to basics,” Johnson said. “It’s about getting confident over the ball and hitting it where I want to.”

The first couple weeks of NR’s season includes matches against Western Branch, Great Bridge and Hickory, usual regional and even state contenders, so Stephenson knows where his squad stands in the district could be decided quickly.