Division-2 state champions in golf

Stowe High boys’ varsity golf team claimed the Division-2 state championship Wednesday, Oct. 7 with a 15-shot win over U-32. Left to right, coach Chris Eaton, JP Marhefka, Will Brochhausen, Chace Newhouse, Bo Graves and Lincoln Sinclair.

Stowe’s varsity boys’ golf team is the best in the state — again.

The Raiders overcame wet, windy conditions, driving rain and a COVID-shortened season that included only two official tournaments to capture another high school state championship Wednesday, Oct. 7. The Raiders claimed the Division 2 state championship at an 18-hole tournament held at the Country Club of Barre.

The win gave Stowe its fifth state championship in golf in the last six seasons; the Raiders claimed four straight Division 3 titles before moving up to Division 2 last year.

Stowe’s top four golfers shot a combined score of 345 over the course of the 18-hole tournament to come in well ahead of second-place U-32, which shot a 360 on its home course.

Stowe notched its 15-shot victory despite driving rain and wind that peppered all the golfers all day.

“The guys did a really good job of keeping their focus, and good attitudes, when the conditions weren’t very good,” Stowe coach Chris Eaton said.

The Raiders were led by junior Chace Newhouse, who shot an eight-over par 79 on the day. Newhouse had the second-lowest round of any D-2 golfer. He finished behind only Stratton Mountain’s Harrison DiGangi, who earned medalist honors with a 74.

DiGangi’s Stratton Mountain squad finished third overall as a team with 372, Lyndon was fourth with 380, Harwood fifth at 381 and Hartford sixth with 392.

A balanced showing by Stowe’s other three scoring team members helped seal up the Raiders’ win. Lincoln Sinclair shot an 85, JP Marhefka a 90 and Bo Graves a 91. Those finishes put all four Stowe golfers in the top 10 of the 36-player field. Stowe’s fifth golfer last Wednesday, Will Brochhausen, shot a 101. If his score had counted instead of one of his teammates’ scores the Raiders still would have claimed the D-2 title by five shots.

Having two golfers come close to the low rounds of the tournament has been a recipe for success for the Raiders in the past, but they were able to get the win with a more balanced attack this year.

“We didn’t have two low scorers,” Eaton said. “But our third, fourth and fifth golfers did a great job of making up for that.”

The Raiders’ win looks even more impressive given how young the team is. Newhouse is the sole junior on the team while Bowman, Brochhausen, Marhefka and Sinclair are all sophomores. Of the five, only Newhouse and Sinclair were major contributors on Stowe’s varsity squad last year.

The win at the Country Club of Barre wasn’t just Stowe’s return to golf glory; it has helped soothe the pain of losing the D-2 title last year, in Stowe’s first year in the division. After winning the qualifying tournament last season the Raiders finished second to Hartford, which was playing on its home course, in the state title tournament.

Heading into the tournament last week, Eaton said the Raiders had their eyes on Hartford again, particularly because that team finished second to Stowe at the state-qualifying tournament this year. Hartford ended up having a tough day, but Eaton’s squad also knew U-32 would be a force on its home course, and that team turned out to be Stowe’s closest competition.

“You always have to put the home team in there,” as possible title contenders, Eaton said. “They know the course, they’re used to playing it.”

Along with being a tough course in general, Barre is famous for its fast greens, Eaton said, so going into the tournament the Raiders knew that was something they had to deal with. U-32’s team was playing just ahead of Stowe’s last Wednesday, and Eaton and his squad knew things were going fairly well for the home team, too.

“You could get a general sense that some of their guys were doing pretty well,” Eaton said. “I felt like they had an easier time on the greens than our guys.”

Eaton said only two of his golfers, Newhouse and Sinclair, had any familiarity with the tough course at Barre, and neither is particularly fond of it. So, to overcome U-32’s home court advantage and to familiarize themselves with the course four of his players scheduled practice rounds at Barre in the two days leading up to the state-championship tournament.

“It was a situation where it could go either way,” Eaton said. “It’s a challenging course already, and then you throw in the weather, and it being a state-championship tournament.”

Overcoming the weather

Foul weather played a major role on the day, even though the thunderstorms forecasted for the day did hold off.

“The weather was miserable, it was a really tough day,” Eaton said. “It started out OK, but then the rain came in. It would pour, then it would sprinkle, then it would pour.”

The weather was also at the back of everyone’s mind even when it wasn’t pouring, Eaton said. Before the tournament started Vermont Principal’s Association officials overseeing it announced that, if every school was able to get nine holes in before any thunderstorms rolled in, the tournament would become a nine-hole event, not 18.

“Over 18 holes, I felt like we had a really good chance,” Eaton said. “But nine holes, that can be tough. You can have a totally different front nine to back nine. Luckily the weather held out but it could have been very different.”

A shorter tournament could have fouled things up for Stowe, Eaton said, because the Raiders started out slow before turning things on late. Newhouse’s day exemplified that. He shot a 41 on the front nine, then upped his game and fired in a 38 on the back nine to finish strong. Overall, he finished with one birdie and 10 pars.

Eaton said his team being able to play together all day helped them deal with the weather, and any jitters that come from playing for a state title. As part of safety restrictions related to COVID-19 all five Stowe golfers went out to play their rounds together, in a pod of five, rather than each of them being paired up with multiple players from other schools.

While different, Eaton thinks that setup helped his squad even if they weren’t allowed to give each other actual advice and coaching tips.

“It was a more unique team atmosphere, they could help each other out being positive and with good attitudes,” Eaton said. As team leaders with the most experience, “both Chace and Lincoln did a great job of that.”

“I think Bo Graves helped a lot with the attitude too, he was very positive and that’s really important with golf,” Eaton said.

COVID restrictions have shortened the fall seasons for all high school athletes; with only the state qualifier and then the state tournament scheduled as actual competitive matches, Eaton said the work his team put in over the summer preparing for whatever season they were going to have was critical in bringing another golf title to Stowe.

“I don’t know if we would have been nearly as successful if they didn’t put so much time in this summer with such a short season,” he said.

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