Though just sophomores, John Reynolds (left) and Ryan Fleshman figure to be the top two scorers for Louisa this season. Both made major impacts as freshmen in 2013.
Eighth year head coach Nick Schreck doesn’t mince his words when he talks about his expectations for the golf program. It’s regionals or bust. Last season, for the first time in team history, Louisa qualified for the Regional Tournament by virtue of a second-place finish in the Conference 23 Tournament.
This year, though the Lions lost three of their top six scorers from last season to graduation, Schreck hasn’t lowered the bar.
“My goal is always regionals,” Schreck said. “I want to win. That’s my thing. I want it to become a habit. With us having so many young kids, I want that to be their expectations in the years going forward.”
There’s no escaping the fact that Louisa is a young team this year, perhaps the youngest in recent memory. In fact, the team’s likely top two scorers, John Reynolds and Ryan Fleshman, are just sophomores.
But anyone who mistakes the duo’s youth for inexperience will be sadly disappointed. Reynolds and Fleshman regularly posted some of the top scores on the team last year, and they aren’t shy about taking over the driver’s seat from departed seniors Joey Vipperman, Josh Holley and Jefferson District second-team qualifier Nick Morris.
“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better, personally,” Reynolds said after the team’s opening practice on Monday, Aug. 4. “I’m just playing a whole lot more. Last year, we kind of got our feet wet with the experience, so we won’t be as nervous this year. We’ve got to prepare more though, because we need to carry this team.”
And Schreck, who has coached Fleshman and Reynolds for a couple of years already, said he sees the duo as the next generation, one that will further the mission of the graduated seniors.
“The seniors that we lost, I had that group for five years,” Schreck said. “That’s kind of back to where we are this year, and that’s good. I like youth. I like the challenge.”
Schreck added that, though young, this year’s team has more desire to be on the links than many of his previous squads. With the recent success of the program, a new attitude has seemed to arrive.
“When I came to the program eight years ago, We didn’t have a lot of kids out here who wanted to play,” Schreck said. “What I like about this group is that we have a lot of kids who want to be out here, and that’s a big step.”
In high school golf, teams send six players to each match, with the top four scores accounting toward the team’s total. Last season, Reynolds and Fleshman’s scores were good enough to make frequent appearances in the box score. The two have played together since they were youths, creating a good-natured rivalry along the way. The competitiveness amongst the two will play a vital role in the team’s success this year.
“If they want to get better, they need to be challenged by someone,” Schreck said. “Last year, playing in our four, five or six [slot], there wasn’t as much pressure on them. We knew one of them needed to get a good score. It’s a little different this year when you’re relied on every
match to come up with a good score.”
Behind Fleshman and Reynolds, senior Jarratt Davis will likely occupy the third scoring slot for the Lions. The fourth slot, though, is a little murkier. Seniors Dakota Breeden and Dakota McNutt are possibilities to emerge, as well as junior Mitchell Thorpe, who has spent the past few months hitting the links with Fleshman. With such a raw and unproven roster, Schreck said his strategy as coach is to put the focus even more on the fundamentals and routine, such as reading greens and working with your playing partner.
“We have to go back to the basics,” Schreck said. “We’re going back to the stuff most of these kids haven’t learned yet.”
And aside from youth, Schreck has another obstacle this year: himself. The coach tore the muscles surrounding his kneecap earlier in the year at a basketball tournament and can’t take a full swing with a golf club for the foreseeable future. To boot, longtime assistant coach D.P Seay also has stepped down from his position to spend more time with his children. Schreck said the changes haven’t affected his ability to lead, a point that Reynolds echoed.
“He’s still showing us what to do,” Reynolds said.
“He rides all over telling us what to do,” he added with a laugh.
With the team’s first match against Culpeper coming on Thursday, August 7, little time is given for teams to prepare. Schreck said the team will rely especially on Reynolds and Fleshman in the early going. Last year, Louisa finished in a disappointing sixth place in the Jefferson District tournament before rebounding to nab second place in the Conference 23 tournament. Schreck is hoping that type of mental fortitude is on display early from his more experienced players.
“Those guys seeing the success and being involved in the success has given them a mindset of where they want to go,” Schreck said. “Sophomores don’t lead a team much, but they’re definitely going to lead this group. They’re going to be the guys we rely on.”
To reach the Regional Tournament, Louisa will need to finish in the top two of the six-team Conference 23 Tournament on Sept. 29. Due to VHSL’s realignment last year, the Jefferson District playoffs mean little, but playing against programs with sustained success such as Powhatan and Monticello has made performing well in the conference tournament a much less daunting task.
“We probably won’t have the home course advantage that we used to have, but playing through our district helps us tremendously before heading into the conference tournament,” Schreck said.
Schreck knows the road ahead may be long, but he wants the end to be a familiar one.
“I understand that we are going to take some losses this year,” Schreck said. “We took some losses last year. By the end of the year, I want us to go to regionals.”