It's hard to believe, but one high school fall sport is already winding down its season in preparation for its league championship. That sport is golf.
Six of eight Niagara-Orleans League teams have already completed their season, with Roy-Hart to face Albion this afternoon in the season finale. From there, it's on to Willowbrook Golf Course just north of downtown Lockport, for tomorrow's 18-hole championship, with start time slated for 11 a.m.
As has often been the case recently, Barker has shown itself to be the class of the league, under the guidance of veteran coach Tim Daley. The Raiders posted a 13-0-1 record in league play this year, led by key contributors Alonzo St. Louis, Mitch Luckman and Brad Wilson. Each of these players shot consistent scores of 45 or better in league matches, and all three appear poised to finish among the top eight individuals in the league.
By finishing in the top eight, players earn the opportunity to continue their season next spring, in the Section VI tournament at Diamond Hawk Golf Course in Cheektowaga.
Unlike other leagues such as ECIC, which select players for advancement to sectionals based on play in the league championship only, the Niagara-Orleans League will weight tomorrow's performance equally against play throughout the regular season.
All regular-season matches are nine holes long, and the 18-hole match at Willowbrook will count as two nine-hole scores when computing the top eight golfers — in addition to the 14 regular-season nine-hole scores. Nate Leary, section VI golf chairman and head golf coach at Orchard Park (a perennial contender in ECIC play), said he prefers the N-O method, which rewards consistency throughout the season.
Albion head coach Bill Dambra also prefers the method, which should assure Purple Eagles stalwart John Krieger a spot in sectionals as long as he maintains solid play in today's regular-season finale against Roy-Hart and in tomorrow's tournament.
"The way we have it set up, it won't ruin your chances if you don't have a great day," Dambra said. "It brings more meaning to the entire season, and it gives us a better chance of having the most consistent golfers representing us at sectionals."
Krieger's stroke average for the season is 42.3, and Dambra said that an average of 45 or below is usually enough for advancement.
Albion's Connor Barleben has a current average of 46.7 and has an outside shot to crack the top eight with strong play today and tomorrow, Dambra said.
"Connor's quite capable; he's had quite a few low rounds before," Dambra said. "They're both capable of shooting low numbers if everything goes their way."
As for the overall team results, the winning team tomorrow at Willowbrook will earn seven points, the second-place team will earn six, and so on until the last-place team receives zero. This again differs from ECIC, where the four division winners play each other in the ECIC team championship: one nine-hole competition where the lowest-scoring team takes home the crown.
This means that Barker essentially has the team championship victory in its grasp. Barker (13-0-1) has 27 points, seven more than second-place Akron (8-2-4), which has 20 points. The Raiders would need a last-place finish coupled with an Akron victory to create a tie for the title.
Medina coach P.J. Bell said all golfers will compete from the green tees at Willowbrook, which measure 3,183 yards on the North course and 2,949 yards on the South course, for a total course length of 6,132 yards. Willowbrook also has a West course, which serves as the home course for Wilson during the regular season.
As no league team plays its home matches at either the North or South course, the advantage of home-course knowledge is essentially nullified for tomorrow's play.
Medina is led by junior Gage Masters, who closed the regular season strong with a nine-hole score of 43 at Shelridge in a match against Roy-Hart on Monday afternoon.
Masters said he has enjoyed bonding with his younger teammates this season as well as teaching them some of his techniques, and is looking forward to closing the season strong tomorrow at Willowbrook. He maintains a stroke average of 45 for the season and finds himself squarely on the top-eight bubble, per Dambra's projections.
"It has been a great time," said Masters, a long-ball hitter who can bomb some drives over 300 yards. "Thursday, I'm just going to work on keeping my focus and hitting the ball straight. But the season overall, it has been a pleasure."