With the coming state qualifier right around the corner, the North Marion boys golf team appears to be peaking at just the right time.
Entering their final regular season match at the Gresham Golf Course on April 26, the Huskies put up their lowest score of the year — a combined score of 385 led by a competitive best 88 shot by junior Colby Shorter.
The team also so meaningful contributions from Calvin Sahlin (96), Jacob Temple (98), and Owen Arnett (103) in the final score, with Carson Hubbard rounding out the team with a 111. A freshman, Temple joined Shorter with shooting a competitive best, making him the final member of the varsity team to break the 100-shot barrier this season.
"This year, on the boys side, it might be one of the deeper groups we've had in the past seven to eight years," North Marion head coach Keith Lee said.
The match knocked a pair of strokes off the team's previous best, a team score of 387 set at the 2019 Husky Invitational played on the team's home course of Langdon Farms Golf Club on April 16.
Led by Sahlin's third-place score of 90, the Huskies placed second overall with a team score of 387, beating out Astoria (391) and falling behind the first-place Molalla Indians (359).
It was a competitive best for Sahlin, and on his 17th birthday no less, and he was joined by teammates Arnett (96) and Jakob Null (103) in posting the top scores of their competitive careers as the team inches closer to the state qualifiers coming up in May.
Shorter was the team's final scoring member, shooting a 98, while Jacob Temple rounded out the team's day with a 113. The two scores at Langdon Farms and Gresham set a new high high-water mark for the Huskies, which recorded its best scores as a program of any North Marion boys team since 2015, when they shot a 392 at that year's district tournament.
The Gresham match was also the fifth time this season in which Huskies improved their score, a more important feat for Lee as the team approaches the Regional Tournament.
"I think they're capable of shooting better than that, but it's a process of them learning other techniques than what they're used to doing," Lee said.
Lee expects it will take at least a score of 360 to make the cut for state, as evidenced by Molalla's score at Langdon Farms. That equates to an improvement of about seven strokes per player, a daunting task for the Huskies, but one that Lee thinks is achievable.
"Over 18 holes, that's one shot every other hole," Lee said. "So how many times do you three-putt? Or knock a chip over the green? Or not get a chip on the green?"
A lot of times it's simply a matter of breaking old habits that prevent players from reaching the peaks of their games. Everyone enters the golf program with their own idiosyncrasies in the game built up over countless shots. It's up to Lee and his coaching staff to make sure the right tendencies come to the forefront at game time.
"It's them learning to not always go with the simple choice of how to play a shot, it's learning the more complex choices there are to get that ball within range to make a putt," Lee said. "You're in this situation, what do you normally do? Here's the trade off if you do that, this could happen."
But it's one thing to teach it in practice and another thing to remember it in the heat of the moment. Following the high of the success at Langdon Farms, the team backslid some in its follow-up trip to the Quail Valley Golf Club the next day, shooting a combined score of 415 to place sixth out of seven teams. Seaside led the field at 323, followed by Valley Catholic at 342.
Shorter led the Huskies with a score of 98, the lone North Marion player to breach 100.
Just as players can slide back into old habits, sometimes things can click all at once and that seven-stroke improvement manifests itself in a single game.
"It's just convincing them to do that, and then it's getting them to remember to do that in the moment," Lee said. "And that's the hard part, so they don't just automatically default to what they've done before."
And sometimes it takes multiple seasons. Lee harkens back to former player Grant Hurst, who came into the program as a freshman with zero experience and graduated as the team's top player after four years.
"By his junior year, he was competing for a spot at state," Lee said.
The North Marion coach sees that same potential from players like Shorter and Sahlin, Temple, Hubbard, Null and Arnett. All it takes is a desire to get better and a competitive spirit.
"I told them earlier in the season I want them to compete against each other," Lee said. "They're friends and teammates, but when you get out on the golf course with somebody, you should want to beat them."
The 2019 Special District 1 Regional Tournament will be held May 6-7 at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks. If the North Marion boys are one of the top three teams to place, they will advance to 2019 4A/3A/2A/1A State Champions at emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell.
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