Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 20, 2012

Concord golfers enjoy fall success

By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ATHENS — As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, the days on the golf course are few and far between. Yet for the Concord men’s golf team, these coming months are perfect time to look back at their fall accomplishments and prepare for the spring season.

The Mountain Lions played in four tournaments, winning three and finishing second in the other. All three of their wins were in conference play including the WVIAC Championship.

“It couldn’t have gone much better,” head coach Will Johnson said. “It’s been work for them, but it’s been fun. They’ve been really successfully and they’ve enjoyed. You can see the maturity in them as they’ve grown over the season. Everyone hits a bad shot on the golf course, but the guys grind out the hole and don’t let those shots affect them.”

Concord defeated second-place Charleston by 16 strokes to recapture the conference crown after losing it a season ago to Bluefield State. The Big Blues placed third.

“It feels good,” junior and former Graham standout Matt Morgan said. “Bluefield State was solid last year, but we let one get away from us. It was nice to go out this year and run the table knowing we were the best team. There were some pretty solid teams in the conference this year.”

The Mountain Lions edged Charleston by seven strokes to win the WVIAC Northern Regional while they took the WVIAC Central Regional over Davis & Elkins by seven shots.

Johnson added, “It hurt them last year. I think Bluefield State beat them twice. They’ve come back stronger this year and played hard. It was a big challenge, but we met it and came out on top.”

Along with the team success has come individual honors. Concord has placed at least two players in the top 10 at each tournament.

Four placed in the top five at the WVIAC Championships and Stefan Labuschagne was the fourth straight Mountain Lion to be crowned the individual conference champion.

“It’s real nice,” the senior from South Africa said. “I didn’t realize until after they told me. It was a less pressure that I didn’t know.”

Labuschagne has finished no worse than tied for sixth. He has one victory, a second and a fourth place finish on the year.

“I’d have to give credit to the team,” he said. “The atmosphere we have, we’re all positive and have fun which is what golf’s all about.”

Morgan has two top 10’s this season including a second place finish at the Northern Regional. He was a stroke back of Charleston’s Jamin Smith.

“I’m having a lot more fun,” Morgan said. “This summer I worked on getting more flexible and I practiced a lot harder. The thing with golf is you can never stop. People are always getting better. I had some good tournaments over the summer and that helped build my confidence heading into the season.”

A change in atmosphere has helped the team according to Morgan. He said, “With the coach we have know, we have more fun and it’s more laid back. …We just have less pressure on us and we’ve played better.”

Johnson became the full-time men’s and women’s golf coach this year after splitting his duties between the golf course and the hardwood as a men’s assistant. Before becoming full-time golf coach, former assistant Darcy Donaldson handled most of the coaching duties for the men.

“I told them at the beginning year of how I want to approach things,” Johnson said. “I want you to work hard and win championships [is what I told them]. After a round or tournament is over with, you have to get back to having fun where you are enjoying it. If you get to the point it’s not fun, you’re not going to be successful. I concentrate everyday on having fun with them.”

The change has worked well this fall and the team is hoping to carry that over this spring.

“We want to continue on the same track we’re on,” Johnson said. “If we’re fortunate enough to make it from the regional to the national, we want to go far. We’ve been there, but we really haven’t put it together. That’s what I want. I want them to put on a performance like I think they can.”

For that to occur, Concord will have to keep the momentum they’ve built in the fall going through the off-season this winter despite the typical cold weather in Athens.

“That’s one of the biggest problems we have,” Johnson said of finding a way to stay in shape in the off-season. “We need a facility were they can come and hit balls. We don’t that here. We have nets you can put up and hit into, but you don’t get much from that. You can’t tell what the ball flight is or anything like that.

“Hopefully in the future, we can have a place on campus where the guys can go putt and hit balls….You’re going to lift weights and run, but there’s more to golf than just that.”

Concord has made a trip to the NCAA National Championship the past three seasons, but has not had much success. Morgan, Labuschagne and the rest of the Mountain Lions hope to change that this year.

“Win everything and go to nationals,” Labuschagne said of their goal this spring.

Morgan added, “We know we can compete with the teams at nationals. We want to get back there. We set that goal for ourselves and nobody has been able to stop us.”