Spring, a time of renewal, is famous for making people feel optimistic. So it seemed fitting that, under a bright blue, cloudless sky March 23, Owen golf coach Tim Raines was all smiles.
His Warhorses were getting ready to take on the rest of the Western Highlands Conference. The match, the team's second of the season, would give Raines his best look yet at his team. He believes it has a shot at the state championship in May.
“We only lost one senior last year,” the third-year boys golf coach said last week. “If these guys come out this season and play like they’re capable of playing, we’ll be really competitive.”
Having lost only one player, the Warhorses come into the season as a seasoned group.
“We’ve got an experienced team,” Raines said. “We’ve got two seniors with four years of experience, two juniors with three (years) and a sophomore who played for us last year.”
The team is composed of dedicated golfers who spend the offseason working on their games, according to the coach. That gives the Warhorses an advantage in the conference, he believes.
“The last two years we’ve qualified for regionals,” he said. “Last year, out at Maggie Valley, we missed qualifying (for state) as a team by only six shots total.”
Raines believes the return of the majority of the team after another year of development gives Owen a legitimate shot at contending for the 2-A state championship, held this year at Beacon Ridge Golf & Country Club in West End. Juniors Garrett Miller and Lucas Adams played in tournaments over the summer, which means two of the Warhorses' top golfers have continued to improve.
"Garrett won the Skyview Open down at (Asheville Municipal Golf Course) last year," Raines said. "That kind of tournament is invaluable on our team."
Owen may have missed the state championship by six strokes last year, but that doesn't mean the Warhorses weren't represented at Foxfire Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst.
Miller took his smooth left-handed swing to the individual state championships in 2016, where he finished 20th.
"He did so well," Raines said. "I mean finishing 20th in the state in 2-A as a sophomore is really good. And we get him back this year with all of that experience around him."
Seniors Brock Pressley and Elijah Ammons have each been with the team since their freshman year. Pressley finished second in the conference tournament in Black Mountain, shooting a 78. Miller finished first with a 72.
"Brock shot an 80 at Reems Creek (Golf Club) in our first match of the season," Raines said. "He's really stepping it up for us right now, and that's big."
As a team the Warhorses finished first in its first and only home tournament of the season, shooting a team total of 329, five strokes better than second-place Avery High School.
"Garrett shot a 72 and then told me he didn't feel like he hit the ball that well," Raines said chuckling. "I feel like we played pretty well."
Raines, who started coaching the Warlassies basketball team in 1994, said he stresses to his players the importance of improving as a golfer in some way each day.
"I ask my basketball players to make a pledge to me that they'll try to get better each day, and not compare (themselves) to other players, just improve," he said. "When these guys come out to practice that's all I ask of them. Just take it seriously and work to get better every day."
One new player on the team this year is very familiar with Raines' philosophy as a coach. Junior Kendal Marlowe joined her basketball coach on the Warhorses golf team.
"Kendal played golf in middle school," Raines said. "We didn't have a girls team in the fall, so I told her to join us. She's going to work her way into the lineup next Tuesday (March 28) at Grassy Creek (Golf & Country Club)."
Marlowe and the rest of the Warhorses should be able to accomplish their three goals if they continue to commit to improving their games.
"Of course our first goal is to win conference, and that is decided at the conference tournament. And from there we would head to regionals (the second goal) and you have to get there to qualify for state (the third). And that's what we want to do this season."