Oneida’s first-year golf coach, Jeremy Barnes, says it’s important to keep things in perspective. But he also wants to make sure that his players receive the attention they deserve after an impressive season.
For the first time in school history, the Oneida boys qualified for the region tournament. And, for the first time in school history, a freshman — Rylin Bowling — qualified for the regionals.
Barnes said both accomplishments are noteworthy.
“The school made it (to the regionals) once before by default,” Barnes said. “But this is the first time they have actually qualified by score.”
Oneida’s girls also advanced to the regionals this season, earning a berth by default.
The perspective that Barnes mentions is this: there are greater things that can be accomplished. There were no championships, no state tournament qualifiers.
But there was a perfect, 10-0 regular season record for the boys — another school first. And their final record was 12-2.
“We put a ton of hours into the season,” Barnes said. “After the dead period ended, these guys played golf five days a week, either matches or practice. And we practiced at least two hours a day. There were a couple of practices where I made them go four hours just to get 18 holes in. They really bought in and they were committed. I appreciated that.”
With senior Chance Gilbert leading the way, the Indians marched through their regular season undefeated, earning wins against teams like Kingston, Cumberland Gap, York Institute and Williamsburg.
The team’s only other senior, Ryan Brady, played an important role as the Indians completed their unbeaten regular season.
Ultimately, Oneida finished third in the district tournament to earn a berth in the regionals.
In high school golf, the top five players on the boys’ teams are scored, and the top four scores are accumulated to determine a winning team. For girls’ teams, the top three players are scored, and the top two scores count.
The top four teams from each district advance to the region tournament. Oneida finished behind Kingston and Rockwood to earn its spot. In years past, there have been some individual players who have qualified for the regionals — the top five players not on a region tournament team qualify — such as Hughston Lay, Emily Hutson and Chelsea Chambers. But Barnes said the Indians had never recorded a Top 4 district finish as a team.
Ultimately, Alcoa won the regional tournament, which wasn’t a surprise.
“Their reputation is football, but they’re just as good or better at golf than they are in football,” Barnes said. “They had three players that shot even par, which is incredible.”
Barnes also credited his girls team. All three players — senior Brianna Swindell, junior Charlotte Bell and freshman Addie Davis — were first-year players.
“I appreciate what they’ve done,” he said. “They’ve impressed me with how much they’ve improved.”
With only two seniors graduating from the boys team, Barnes said next season could prove to be another successful one, especially considering that Bowling was in the first five all season and another freshman, Cole Cross, played a lot in the first five throughout the season.
“I think we’ll have equal success if not more next year,” Barnes said.
Like Scott High’s track and field team, which gives Oneida athletes an opportunity to play even though their school does not have a track team, the Oneida golf team is a coop team — meaning Scott High players who want to play golf can join the squad. Two did so this year — junior Stephen Strunk, who is expected to play an important role as a senior next year, and sophomore Bryce Duncan.
Barnes said he hopes to continue generating interest in the golf program.
“I would love to see interest pick up at the middle school level,” he said. “They do their season in the spring, but I would like to include middle schoolers to practice with us and play. We could even do some JV stuff.”
Barnes started his tenure as the Indians’ head coach by talking to students at Oneida Middle School. He said he wants to talk to students at the county middle schools as well.
“Interest is low right now, but it isn’t because kids don’t want to play; it’s just because it’s not on everyone’s mind,” he said.