SPORTS: Port Angeles, Chimacum boys golf teams aiming for the top

BOTH THE PORT Angeles and Chimacum boys golf teams could make some major noise at their state tournaments starting Tuesday.

They’re not the Bobbsey Twins but both 2013 teams and circumstances are eerily similar.

Both the Roughriders and Cowboys have very long-time coaches, Port Angeles’ Mark Mitrovich is in his 27th year but Chimacum’s Mitch Black is the granddaddy of golf coaches in his 37th year.

They are both league champions and dominated their respective conferences, both have big-time tournament success and both are sending a ton of players to state.

The Riders have the best chance of doing well at state by sending five to the tournament, the most ever in 27 years, while the Cowboys are sending three.

The similarity doesn’t end there, though.

The teams are loaded with just very polite, and as both coaches say, very nice and likeable young men.

If sportsmanship awards were given at every event, the Riders and Cowboys would have a wheelbarrow full each.

“This is a really special group of guys,” Black said earlier in the season right after the Cowboys won the Nisqually Classic tournament.

“They are good students, outstanding athletes and are a lot of fun to coach.”

Mitrovich said about his Riders: “There are no finer people to work with than these guys.”

The five Riders heading to 2A state are two-time Olympic League MVP Joe Barnes, Garrett Payton, Alex Atwell, Micah Needham and Austin Underwood.

The three Cowboys set for 1A state are Riley Downs, Kevin Miller and Nathan Browning.

Just missing the cut to state for Chimacum were Cole Lovekamp and Jack Hilt.

“I wish Hilt and Lovekamp could have made it,” Black said.

Hilt’s a sophomore and will have a couple of more chances during his career.

The two teams have played against each other in at least two tournaments this year, and Black has noticed the outstanding sportsmanship the Riders display on the course in every outing.

“They are nice guys,” Black said about the Riders.

“He [Mitrovich] has done a great job this year.”

The two teams are 1-1 going head-to-head in tournaments, and ironically, each team won at the other squad’s home course with the Cowboys finishing ahead of the Riders at Port Angeles’ Duke Streeter Memorial Invitational at Peninsula Golf Club, and the Riders winning the Cowboys’ own Port Ludlow Invitational at Port Ludlow Golf Club.

PA aims for best finish

The Riders had their best state finish ever last year under Mitrovich, claiming fifth place in the 2A tournament, just a half-point out of fourth.

They’re hoping to shatter that performance this year with their goal a top-three finish.

And if the ball rolls right, they are expecting to be competing for the state championship.

“It’s exciting for us to be in the mix,” Mitrovich said.

The 2A state meet is set for Chambers Bay at University Place, just south of Tacoma, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The top 40 of the 80 golfers on the first day will advance to the second and final day.

The key for a strong team finish is to get as many players as possible playing on that second day.

Teams must have at least two players competing on the final day to be eligible for team awards.

Team points are assigned for each place that eligible golfers finish, such as 50 points for first place, 45 for second, 40 for third, and so on.

“You need one or two players to break through on that second day,” Mitrovich said about a team finishing high.

It’s been an incredible year for the Riders, winning the 2A Olympic League with a perfect 8-0 record and being a major player in every tourney they have playing in.

“It’s gotten everybody excited,” Mitrovich said about the season.

“It’s been fun.”

The veteran coach, though, isn’t about to put pressure on his players.

“My pregame speech [for every event] is to enjoy yourself,” Mitrovich said.

“Making it to state is a reward for all the hard work they have put in for the year. It’s an honor to be there. This is just gravy.”

The key is not to keep your eyes on the scoreboard, and to worry about how you are shooting, Mitrovich said.

Golfers have been defeated by pressure and stress more than anything else.

“It is a mental game,” Mitrovich said.

“I tell the kids to trust your game. To just enjoy playing. To enjoy every shot.

“I tell them not to think about the score. The more you think, the worse your game is.”

The team is led by ace Barnes, the senior team captain, and Payton, the senior team co-captain.

Barnes has been the league’s top player two years running, and had a best nine-hole average of 38.4, while Payton is the league’s No. 3 player with a 39.6 average.

Barnes has been a consistent player the past two years.

“He’s still shooting in the mid-70s,” Mitrovich said.

The standout senior had a slight dip at one point in the season but has recovered.

“Joey definitely is on the upswing again,” Mitrovich said.

Barnes’ value to the team transcends his ability to score low.

“Joey has been such a helpful teammate to the other kids,” Mitrovich said.

“He goes all the way helping these kids. He thinks more about them than himself.”

Atwell, just a sophomore, finished fourth in league with a 40.6 average. He has cut his average 18-hole score by more than eight strokes since his freshman year.

He is shooting 81.2 this year compared to 89.6 last season.

“Alex has really matured,” Mitrovich said. “The all-league player has gotten more consistent.”

All the Riders are great athletes as well as being hard workers and great students of the game, Mitrovich said.

They all have good eye-and-hand coordination and they all can hit the ball a mile.

“The farther you can drive it, the easier the game becomes,” Mitrovich said.

“All of our players on varsity have good length.”

Payton especially has a strong swing.

“Garrett has pretty high club speeds,” Mitrovich said.

The coach is expecting his Riders to continue playing well at the state meet.

“We are peaking,” he said.

“The kids support one another as a team. These guys have strong work ethics, they are very coachable, and they are just nice people.”

Cowboys set for state

Chimacum also continues along its road to a strong state finish.

The Cowboys play Tuesday and Wednesday at the 1A tournament at Lake Spanaway Golf Course in Spanaway.

They won the Nisqually League with a 7-0 record, won the Nisqually Classic and was second at both the Tim Higgins Memorial tourney and Duke Streeter.

The Cowboys tied for first at Duke Streeter with powerhouse Shelton but lost in a playoff to the four-time consecutive winner.

“We are having a great season,” Black said.

“Kevin Miller has made the biggest leap for us. He has been a steady, consistent golfer all year.

“Riley Downs is our gamer. He scores well in the big meets.

“Nathan Browning is a great kid with a good swing.”

Browning will be making his third appearance at state while Miller will be making his second.

“If the three pit it together at state, we could make a run at it,” Black said.

Both teams will be putting their best foot forward at state in just two days, which shouldn’t be too hard with the quality of their eight state-caliber players.

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Sports Editor Brad LaBrie can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]

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