Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Golf: Everyone’s chasing Churchill

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Alex Kamargo (above) and his twin brother, Mike, are part of the reason Whitman is a prime challenger to Churchill’s dominance of the county golf scene this fall.
The dividing line between great and average in golf is a matter of inches, or even less. It’s the microscopic difference of hip movement on a tee shot or the fine art of properly reading the sometimes miniscule undulations of the putting greens that separates the best players from the also-rans. And it usually boils down to length the size of a golf ball.

No one has mastered those inches as well, or as frequently, in the county’s high-school golf scene as Churchill. The intricacy of the sport should make it hard to field one dominant team, but that’s exactly what the Bulldogs have done for the last several seasons.

And none may have been finer than the squad that tore up the county’s Yachmetz Division (the top division) and beyond last year. For the fourth straight year, they swept the District 2 and Class 4A⁄3A state tournament titles, with the latter done in a tournament-record low score with a total of 604, beating runner-up La Plata (Charles County) by a whopping 31 strokes.

It’s made life easy for head coach Arnold Tarzy, but his expectations exceptionally high.

‘‘Not only do I tell them about the standard we have to live up to, but they understand that they have to put in the work or they are not going to make the team,” he said. ‘‘I told players that if they don’t break 90 every time they play, don’t even try out. This is not about the experience of just trying out for a varsity sport, this is about having the best team possible.”

It will be difficult for the Bulldogs to field a team as dominating as last year’s. Gone are Gazette Golfer of the Year Billy Peel, District 2 individual title winner Karl Lindblad and Joey Goldstein, whose season stroke average only trailed Peel of anyone in the county a year ago.

But the talent is still there for Churchill to be hard to beat once again. Senior golfer Connor Wielgus tied for second at states a year ago, and his nine-hole stroke average of 38.0 tied for third in the county. Senior Alex Brown was the top girls finisher at the county tournament a year ago, and Cynthia Iselin was right behind. And the Bulldogs will also field a supporting cast of players who all averaged below 80 in tryouts this summer.

Churchill’s record-setting state tournament performance one-upped the record formerly set by Whitman in 1999. The Vikings might be the best bet to catch Churchill this year, thanks in large part to the twin Kamargo brothers, Mike and Alex. Alex was the superior golfer as a sophomore, but a year ago it was Mike who finished in the top-10 in six regular-season matches. Both are among the most talented returning performers in the county, and along with a strong senior group including Louis Stear, Lee Carlaw and Carolina Nathan, should have the Vikings in the running for state and district titles.

‘‘I see great things out of us this year, with five seniors out of the top six, they all have experience,” said Whitman coach Karl O’Donoghue. ‘‘I do expect this team to be even more competitive than last year, and we’d love to knock off Churchill.”

Though they didn’t have the victories across the board, one of the most pleasant surprises from a year ago was Magruder. It was often led by Hilary Lawson, who had been arguably the top golfer in the girls division for four years (she won the District 2 Girls Divison title as a freshman and a senior, the latter by eight strokes).

Though Lawson will not return for the Colonels, one of the top golfers in the county will. Senior Tyler Jacobs was brilliant in 2006, tying with Wielgus and Walter Johnson’s Joe Kim for the third-highest strokes average in the county at 38.0.

‘‘I expect even bigger things from Tyler this time around,” said Magruder head coach Clarence Brown. ‘‘I’m pretty solid at three positions, so I’d say that we’re going to give each of our opponents a run for their money.”

Kim, who graduated, was the top golfer for Walter Johnson a year ago, which also lost its next top scorer in Max Byrne. But the Wildcats do have reason to be optimistic, thanks to six returning players from a year ago, including Adam Walter, Michael Schwartz and Sam Kider. Kider should be the team’s top scorer throughout the year. Their emergence could allow WJ to potentially better their third-place finish in the Yachmetz from a year ago.

‘‘I think as a team, we are hoping to at least finish as well as we did last year,” said Walter Johnson head coach Dick Payne.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase should be able to finish even better than they did last year as well, at least on paper. The Barons return their top golfer from a year ago, senior Tucker Joyce, as well as senior Wagner Wiegand, who qualified for the 2006 state tournament. They are expected to be the horses for B-CC, and could each crack the top-10 in scoring this year.

‘‘I think that a lot of people are touting Churchill and Whitman, not even mentioning clubs like WJ and B-CC,” said Barons head coach Bob Sheridan. ‘‘We could definitely be darkhorses this year and challenge for top positions.”

In the upper echelon is where Damascus could be expected to be this year, in the Kyle Division (the middle of the county’s three divisions based on program strength). That would be a stark contrast to a year ago when the Hornets dwelled at the bottom of the Yachmetz. But head coach Eric Brenneman couldn’t be more thrilled with his young, talented group, including precocious freshmen Cody Prestun and Brett Myers, who are both shooting under 80 in preliminary rounds.

‘‘I am extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely optimistic, and this is not sarcasm, it’s the absolute truth,” said Brenneman. ‘‘We’ve got two ninth-graders, two 10th-graders, and [senior] Kyle Foreman’s going to anchor us. I’m loving life right now.”

Not every school is so lucky. Rockville had one of the best seasons in school history a year ago, winning the Kyle Division and a district title at the 2A⁄1A class level. However, due to its success, it was moved up to the Yachmetz Division. The Rams also lost Kurtis Michela and Eddie Ball, their top golfers from a year ago. Junior Brian Sperling may help cushion the blow, but it will be near impossible for Rockville to duplicate last year’s performance.

‘‘We’re not even the guinea pigs, we’re the punching bags,” said Rockville head coach Farron Riggs. ‘‘We’re just going to have to hang in there. It’s going to be tough to compete but we just need to get as much experience as we can playing with the big boys this year.”

Poolesville could be in for a rough ride this year as well, due to its youth. One of its top players is just a sophomore, Preet Mandavia, and the Falcons lost much of its lineup from a year ago. But they do bring back senior James Walker to the fold.

Fast Facts

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Barons

Head coach: Bob Sheridan

Last state title: None

Last individual state champion: N⁄A

Players to watch: Tucker Joyce (Sr.), Wagner Wiegand (Sr.)

Churchill Bulldogs

Head coach: Arnold Tarzy

Last state title: 2006 (10th)

Last individual state champion: Devin Kay (2005)

Players to watch: Connor Weilgus (Sr.), Alex Brown (Sr.)

Damascus Hornets

Head coach: Eric Brenneman

Last state title: 1993 (1st)

Last individual state champion: N⁄A

Players to watch: Cody Prestun (Fr.), Brett Myers (Fr.)

Magruder Colonels

Head coach: Clarence Brown

Last state title: 1973 (2nd)

Last individual state champion: Doug Ridgway (1984)

Players to watch: Tyler Jacobs (Sr.), Joey Palomino (Sr.)

Poolesville Falcons

Head coach: Jon Rogers

Last state title: None

Last individual state champion: N⁄A

Players to watch: Preet Mandavia (Soph.), James Walker (Sr.)

Rockville Rams

Head coach: Farron Riggs

Last state title: None

Last individual state champion: N⁄A

Players to watch: Brian Sperling (Jr.), Griffin Kean (Jr.)

Seneca ValleyScreaming Eagles

Head coach: Todd Bumgardner

Last state title: 1984 (2nd)

Last individual state champion: Clare Dolan (1984)

Players to watch: Tyler Klitsch (Jr.), Brian Black (Jr.)

Walter Johnson Wildcats

Head coach: Dick Payne

Last state title: None

Last individual state champion: None

Players to watch: Sam Kider (Sr.), Adam Walter (Sr.)

Whitman Vikings

Head coach: Karl O’Donoghue

Last state title: 1999 (4th)

Last individual champion: Charles Hong (1996)

Players to watch: Alex Kamargo (Sr.), Mike Kamargo (Sr.)

Wootton Patriots

Head coach: Erin Williams

Last state title: 1997 (3rd)

Last individual champion: Erin Williams (1998)

Players to watch: Chris Arabe (Sr.), Andrew Stein (Jr.)