After last year’s senior-heavy Powhatan golf team earned a trip to the state tournament, its first appearance since 2013, head coach Chris Leech returns half his starting lineup and is looking to see if his team can take steps forward and continue building even further beyond the success of the 2021 season.
In their early competitions to start the season, Leech has seen leaders emerge, newcomers make strong first impressions and the incumbent starters from last year handle their new roles professionally.
Leading the charge is senior Jack DeBord, who returns for his second season after joining the team as a transfer last year.
As the team’s top golfer, Leech says DeBord has gone above and beyond being just a talented player with a club in his hand, noting his leadership ability and willingness to work with the teammates still navigating competitive golf.
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“He’s definitely taking the role of team leader, really taking the time to set things up during practice and helping some of the guys who may be struggling or guys who are outside the five or six-spot,” Leech said.
Behind DeBord on the starting lineup are returning contributors Connor Hedgepeth and Luke Daniels. Hedegepeth, a sophomore, has shown noticeable improvement this year after a productive freshman year, and the expectation with him is to be both a key figure to the program’s present and its future.
After losing graduates like Brandon Washburn, Hans Rehme and Adam Camp, the Indians have had to look to other golfers to step into their roles in the top-6, with Leech noting sophomore Carter Estep as one particular athlete doing well with the additional pressure of seeing his score count toward the win column.
“This year, he is locked in as a starter and his game is improving,” Leech said of the sophomore.
As far as the newcomers, seniors Tanner Wyatt and Parker Unmussig joined the team this fall and have made their presence known to help the team’s depth, though Leech says adapting to the competitive style compared to just casually playing golf is still something they’re learning early on.
“They’re not as familiar with competitive golf so they’re getting used to not just playing with their friends, but actually seeing the score count and the whole mental side with that,” Leech said. “They’re trending upward as well, I’m happy with their progress.”
While not stacked with seniors, this group has proven it is capable of returning to states in consecutive years.
These district meetings early in the season have acted as preparation for the regional tournament, which is the true deciding factor in whether or not Powhatan returns to the state tournament or not.
Last season, that Indians roster had to compete in unfamiliar territory at a course in Abingdon, giving them just a day to prepare for the green where they’d be hitting.
This year, they have a bit more of an advantage at regionals, with the tournament taking place at Stonehenge Golf and Country Club, the home course of the Monacan golf team and a location Powhatan is very much familiar with.
With still plenty of golf left to be played before they get to that point, the early competitions are more about the starting lineup working together to develop a rhythm that can lead to winning golf.
Leech says it’s hard not to be pleased with the early signs his team has displayed. Like many Powhatan programs that had promising seasons last year, the hope is that the success is sustained.
“We definitely have the potential,” he said. “I think we just need to continue getting better. We’re still a young team for the most part. The amount of competitive golf this team has isn’t the same as what we had last year so every tournament we play needs to be a learning experience as we continue the season.”