Aug 10, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorRiverton's four-time defending state champions hit the course this season with a slew of fresh faces.
It's all about trust.
In your game. In your teammates. In yourself.
As freshman Konnor Gaston made his way across a makeshift balance beam in the parking lot of the Riverton Country Club on Wednesday afternoon, trust was imperative.
His eyes were closed as he wobbled along the length of the metal cylinder separating gravel from grass under the watchful eyes of his fellow Riverton Wolverines golfers and those of head coach Lars Flanagan.
In Jedi-like fashion, Gaston arrived at the end of his blind journey successfully.
According to Flanagan, the exercise is designed to strengthen the mind.
"Golf is such a mental game," said Flanagan. "During a round, you're out on the course for four or five hours, but you're only over the ball about 20 percent of the time, which allows your mind to wander, so you always need confidence in what you're going to do next because golf is a game which can make you look silly pretty quick if your mind isn't right."
Flanagan's squad will need plenty of confidence heading into the new season, coming off four consecutive Class 4-A state championships, but without most of the critical components which achieved such greatness.
Four-time boys individual state champion Easton Paxton is now patrolling the fairways of Tobacco Road as a member of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, while Alec Richardson and Jayd Dion have also begun Division I athletic careers, in track and golf, respectively.
As a result, senior Jorden James has been elevated from last season's No. 4 to top gun this fall.
However, it's not as much of a jump as it might seem on the surface, said Flanagan.
"Last year, Jorden had three of the top players in the state in front of him on his own team in Easton, Alec and Jayd," he said. "So, I want Jorden to think he's one of the best players in the state this year, which I believe he is. In fact, I really think he's ready to step up and embrace his role as the new leader of our team."
Concerning the rest of his squad on the boys' side of the roster, junior Kellen Miller will be the No. 2 behind James, with senior Vinnie Dalbow, sophomores Gaston, Braxton Fehring, Cameron Schoening and freshman Coby Cunningham.
The youth of his charges requires patience to cultivate, but doesn't mean there aren't rewards along the way, said Flanagan.
"For most of them, varsity golf is a whole new experience," he said. "I want them to remain positive and enjoy themselves."
One player Flanagan expects to be on the fast track to success is Gaston, who is out for golf for the first time this fall after playing football his freshman year as a Wolverine.
"Konnor thinks the game very well and has a nice swing," said Flanagan. "I like where his game is going."
Shelby Watson bombed shot after shot down the middle of the driving range on Wednesday, as the lone senior on the girls' side prepared for her final high-school season.
Watson progressed through the different clubs in her bag, ranging from driver to fairway iron to pitching wedge with equal precision before heading over to join her teammates on the putting green.
Flanagan knows exactly what he has in Watson, he said.
"Shelby definitely knows how to play the game," said Flanagan. "She knows how to take advantage of a course when she's playing well, but can also grind out results if she's not."
Joining Watson will be juniors Jade Martinez and Julia Masson, sophomore Katie Davis and freshman Sierra Brubaker.
Although the boys will compete at the Class 4-A level for another season, the Lady Wolverines will be playing in Class 3-A.
Despite the fact greatness was achieved for the past four years, Flanagan doesn't feel the legacy left behind by the four-time champions places any additional pressure on his current players, he said.
"We have an entirely new group now," said Flanagan. "However, these kids watched and saw how hard our previous players worked and they've done a good job learning."
As far as what he believes his current crop of swingers is capable of, it's a learning curve which requires patience and a wait-and-see approach, he said.
"Our expectations are different this year, but they're still high," said Flanagan. "We can achieve as well as any team, but we need to play as well as we possibly can. We're building something for down the road, but I believe by the end of the season, we'll have improved a great deal."
Riverton begins its season with a tournament in Lander on Thursday and Friday.
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