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Friday, August 2, 2019

2019 Highlands Boys Golf Preview

Bluebirds Need Younger Players to Step Forward to Fill Important Scoring Roles

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands Head Coach Bert Richey (left) goes over some things on the course in a recent practice. The Bluebirds are coming off an eighth-place finish at state.
The Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team had a lot of experience coming into last season and it turned into one of the best seasons in school history.

The Bluebirds put everything together to win the 8th Region Tournament and go on to finish eighth in the state tournament. Highlands made the state tournament in 2017 after finishing runner-up in the 8th Region Tournament, but did not make it past the first day as a team.

Highlands returns three golfers from that team. But after that is where some younger golfers need to step forward. Of the 11 golfers listed on the roster, six are in middle school.

Juniors Justin Gabbard and Luke Muller return after posting solid seasons in 2018. Gabbard won 8th Region medalist honors shooting a 70 and Muller shot a 71. Muller combined to shoot a two-day total of 154 at state and Gabbard shot a 156.

The third returning player in freshman Joel Craft provided a huge spark in the region tournament firing an 80. The third and fourth golfers for runner-up Grant County shot 82 and 83. Highlands shot a 293 in the region tournament beating the Braves by 14 strokes. Five players play in the region tournament and the team total is determined by the top four scores.

Three seniors graduated for the Bluebirds in Ryan Leigh, Brady Walz and Steven Grimme. But Highlands Head Coach Bert Richey said the returning players have accepted the leadership roles well.

"It's really important that Justin, Luke and Joel are our best leaders because they're going to lay the foundation for how these kids act and how they perform as far as effort," Richey said. "They're going to mimic what they see and luckily, all three of those kids have good course demeanor and do a pretty good job of staying even. They don't get real high. They don't get real low. They go to the next shot."

Leigh shot a 72 in the region tournament and 166 at state. Grimme golfed in the region tournament before Walz golfed in the state tournament.

"Definitely Brady, Steven and Ryan last year were great role models," Gabbard said of last year's seniors. "We really just want to do what they did last year. I want to go out on the course and teach all the kids that will take our spots in a few years the rules, teach them good attitudes on the course because when I graduate, I want this team to be good."

Eighth grader Ryan Toole leads the pack hoping to step into the fourth and fifth spots for the Bluebirds. The Bluebirds have no seniors on the roster. Highlands plays in six tournaments in a week to start the season.

"At the start, I'm not too worried about results. I'm worried about gaining experience. These (games) are practice for the show at the end," Richey said. "Unfortunately, you're judged on one day. You can have a great year and have a bad day at the end of the year and everybody's down and out about it. Hopefully, we'll peek at the right time."

The Bluebirds saw what happens when players keep their emotions in check last year. He said it will be key for the younger players to learn that trait just like any season.

"A lot of these kids have never even played in a tournament so it's all new to them. They only know what they see," Richey said. "I tell them all the time. The last shot can never be changed. But the last shot sure can change the next one so they have to get by whatever happened and put their focus and energy into the next shot or most likely, you're going to have not the result you want on the next shot because you're not 100 percent committed and focused on what you're doing."

Highlands plays in the Pendleton County Invitational on Friday at the Northern Kentucky Country Club. Tee time is 11 a.m.

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