Northside golf aiming to dethrone regional favorites

Published 1:49 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Junior Tucker Mooring tees off at Bayview Golf and Country Club during a Coastal Plains Conference match last season.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Junior Tucker Mooring tees off at Bayview Golf and Country Club during a Coastal Plains Conference match last season.

BATH — The temperature was in the high-60s — cool for that time of year — with a favorable, light, Northeast breeze that played right into the hands of the host. On their home greens of the Roanoke Country Club, the Riverside Knights had overwhelmed the competition at the eastern regional championship on May 5, shooting a 313 and taking first place by more than 50 strokes, a testament to the program’s history, consistency and talent.

With scores of 364 and 383, respectively, Lejeune and Manteo, two other regional powerhouses, qualified for states, Manteo edging the fourth-place Louisburg by a mere two strokes. In a distant fifth place was Northside, a score of 419 being a disappointing and distasteful finish to the golf season.

Last month, the Panthers again found themselves walking off the greens at the Roanoke Country Club, but this time, they boasted considerably different expressions on their faces. For the first time in more than seven years, by one stroke, the team had defeated the reigning eastern regional champion Knights.

A week later, in the second Coastal Plains Conference match of the season at the Bayview Golf Club, the team’s home course, Northside edged Lejeune by two strokes.

And two weeks since their improbable win over the Knights, in an out-of-conference match at Maccripine Country Club in Pinetops, Northside knocked off Manteo, 363-377, completing the early-season sweep of the 2014 1-A state qualifiers.

Fielding just one senior and four freshmen on the roster, head coach Joe Burns has witnessed a complete, 180-degree shift in his program, but it’s one that he believes is simply a product of hard work. Coinciding with the team’s scorecard plunge has been a fresh dedication to one of sports’ most technically challenging games.

“We worked all summer, had preseason workouts and actually hit the gym,” Burns said. “We had fall practice, winter practice. I had expected us to be more competitive this season. The work has paid off for us and we’ve been really, really good … I’ve never had to tell my guys to keep coming out to practice. I couldn’t of asked for anything more.”

The development of golfers like junior Tucker Mooring and senior Trenton Clayton, along with a handful of up-and-coming freshmen, has transformed Northside from a middle-of-the-road opponent to the No. 1 threat to challenge the perennial favorites for a regional championship next month.

Mooring has lowered is average score from an 86 to an 84, while freshman Riley Van Staalduinen has rocketed his way to Burns’ No. 2 option, averaging about an 85.

“(Mooring) is not a vocal leader, but in golf you really don’t need one,” Burns said. “You need someone that’s out there every day and concentrating … Our newcomer this season, Riley Van Staalduinen, he’s probably freshman of the year in our conference if they had that award. He’s providing competition for Tucker. Having someone shoot a shot or two worse than you at every match has been really good for Tucker. The two have space to grow and really showing what hard work and determination in the game of golf can have. Their futures are bright in this game.”

And while the senior, Clayton, has provided a consistent No. 3 option for Burns, Northside is without a regular No. 4 finisher, as each one of the seven golfers on the roster has contributed at least one score this season. (Team scores for matches are decided by adding the lowest four scores from each team.)

With two conference matches and the conference tournament left on the schedule, Northside currently sits 4.5 strokes behind Lejeune for first place. And while the Panthers find themselves in the midst of a late-season slump, Burns believes the work his team is putting in over the break will pay dividends down the stretch.

“It’s really up in the air right now as far as who is going to come out of the region,” Burns said. “I really feel strongly we’re going to be one of the teams to come out. If the guys don’t let the moment get to them, we have a better chance than any to make it to state.”

Northside will compete in the third of five conference matches on Monday at Cypress Landing.