|Expectations Still High for Bluebirds|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior Joel Craft is one of three players returning who golfed in the state tournament last fall. Highlands placed a program-best sixth in state last year.|
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Two of the most prolific players in Highlands Bluebirds boys golf history may have graduated.
But the high standards have not changed. The Bluebirds finished a program-best sixth place in the state tournament in Bowling Green last fall after winning the 8th Region Tournament for the second time in three seasons.
"Our expectation is to win region again," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "I think we've got enough returning so that's going to be our goal as always."
JD Gabbard took his talents to Xavier University and Luke Muller, who also helped the Highlands boys basketball team to the first state championship in school history, will be playing down the road at Northern Kentucky University. Mac Valentine and Isaiah Lampkin also graduated.
Gabbard had a chance to win the individual state championship on the last hole. But he had to settle for a tie for fifth despite shooting a four-below 68 on the second day of the state tournament for a two-day total of 143.
But the Bluebirds return three players who golfed at state last year. They are senior Jack Schneider, junior Joel Craft and freshman Hank Shick. Craft also golfed on the 2018 state tournament team as an eighth grader.
"They (Craft, Shick and Schneider) all have the experience and understand what it takes to win the region," Richey said. "Now they're going to be the anchors and we're going to have a couple other young kids that are going to be playing in their first regional championship this year."
But while Richey said those three have put in a lot of work in the offseason, he has said for years it takes four solid scores for teams to win tournaments and dual events. The top two candidates to fill that role at this time are two freshmen in Nate Surrey and Oliver Golden.
The veteran golfers understand the mental part of the game. Richey emphasizes not letting one bad shot carry over to the next shot.
"We believe in ourselves," Schneider said. "It's all about keeping the right attitude throughout the whole round. We have to show (the younger golfers) the ropes. We just have to tell them things happen when you're playing golf. It's not a perfect game. It's all about your misses. If you keep a good attitude throughout the whole thing, you can do well."
Highlands won 10 tournaments total last year including the region title. The Bluebirds play in 16 tournaments this year. But the main goal is to be playing well at the end of the season.
It comes down to Monday, Sept. 28. The host site for the 8th Region Tournament is Pendleton Hills Golf Course in Butler. The state tournament again takes place at the Bowling Green Country Club.
Highlands will play its first tournament at Pendleton Hills on Friday.