In the wake of tragedy, the Lakeside boys Golf team found the way to region success.
The Panthers won their fifth region championship in seven years earlier this month, and will be competing in the state tournament in Habersham Monday. The Lady Panthers also finished well enough to compete in the state tournament.
Key players for Lakeside such as Ryan Blackburn, Evan Moody, Payne Kassinger, C.J. Blackman and Jordan Riner need to have scores in the mid- to low-70's for the Panthers to win the title, according to Head Coach Jay Gilstrap. Teams like Mairst, Dalton and host Habersham will be Lakeside's strongest opposition for the state title.
If the Panthers manage to win, it won't be Gilstrap's first experience with a state championship team. He was an assistant coach for the 1995 Kansas state champion Hutchinson High School.
Gilstrap became part of the Lakeside legacy two years ago. But the tradition of Golf at Lakeside isn't what is driving this team to succeed.
The Lakeside boys golf team won the Region 3-AAAA championship last Friday at Waynsboro Country Club. The Lakeside girls golf team came in second. Pictured are coach Jay Gilstrap (front row, from left), Lauren Stephan, Marie Sconyers and Caroline Woodall; Ted Mulherin (back row, from left), Payne Kassinger, Evan Moody, Ryan Blackburn, C.J.Blackman and Narayana Gowda.
"I think they're ready to establish a tradition of their own," Gilstrap said. "They are willing to maintain the tradition, but I think they also want to be recognized as capable contenders of their own."
"I'm really ready to go," Moody said. "I was friends with all the people in '99 when they won state...It was kind of like a dream to go too."
But part of the year has been more like a nightmare.
First, on April 15, Shane Williams and Daniel Hall - both Greenbrier golfers - were killed in an accident while en route to a tournament in Lincoln County. The duo was memorialized prior to the region tournament May 3. The loss of close friends was tough, but it also gave Lakeside something to focus on, according to Gilstrap.
"When you lose somebody," Gilstrap said, "You have a tendency, I believe, to play for a purpose."
The same day of the region tournament the team heard Travis Starr - former Lakeside golfer and member of the 1999 state championship squad - had succumbed to injuries sustained when he fell from the bed of a pickup truck. According to Gilstrap, the upperclassmen were more affected by the loss of Starr than the younger team members.
"It's just been a rough past couple of months with everything going on," sophomore Riner said. "I think that kind of hit home because (Starr) played on our golf team last year. We all knew him. He was just a good guy to have on the team."
Despite - or because of - the tragedies, the Lakeside team will now attempt to represent Columbia County in the state tournament. Gilstrap and sophomore Blackman would like to bring home Lakeside's second state championship and dedicate it to the people that the team recently lost.
"I felt good (after the region win)," said Blackman who was a pallbearer at the funerals of both Greenbriar students who died in the accident. "I just wish our rival Greenbriar could have gone on to state...We're going to try to win state for them."
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