Typically, a varsity sports team full of mostly sophomores isn't exactly a state tournament contender.
When Lakeside boy's golf coach Jay Gilstrap took a good look at his group of underclassmen at the beginning of the 2006 season, he didn't see a typical team.
"At the beginning of the season we had a team meeting to set up some goals," Gilstrap said. "Did I expect a state championship? Probably not. Did we prepare for it? Yes, we did."
Those preparations paid off this past week when the Lakeside boy's golf team brought home a Class AAAA state championship with an even par 288 at Fields Ferry Golf Club in Calhoun, Ga.
The state title squad is made up of sophomores Charlie Cason, John Faulkner, Tom Hardy and Graham White, junior Teddy Padezanin and freshman Brian Carter.
Although the six Panthers accomplished the feat on a Monday afternoon in perfect weather conditions, the state title was no walk in the park. Defending state champion Etowah was also in the running.
"I've coached for 16 years and know Etowah's a quality program," Gilstrap said. "We lost to them in a close one last year."
The roles were reversed on Monday when the Panthers outplayed Etowah for a three-stroke win. Cason, Faulkner and Hardy turned in rounds of 73 while Carter secured the title with a 3-under-par 69. The round was the second best of the tournament.
"That was amazing," Faulkner said of his teammate's score. "To do it at that time was perfect."
Faulkner's work on the course was just as important. The sophomore shot par on the first seven holes, but hit disaster with double bogey, bogey and bogey on 8, 9 and 10. With only four holes to play, Faulkner sat at four over par.
"I knew I needed at least two birdies," he said. "I was thinking I could shoot 74 or 75."
Instead, Faulkner turned his game around by nailing a 20-foot putt for birdie on 15. After a second birdie on 16 and par on 17, Faulkner found himself in the bunker on 18. The sophomore chipped out and birdied the hole to finish with a 1-over par 73.
"I was nervous over that last putt," he said. "It should have been a better round, but it was a pretty good comeback."
Even with Faulkner's 73, Lakeside was still two strokes off the lead with three Panthers still on the course. Sophomore Tom Hardy sealed the state title by shooting 34 on the back nine for a round of 73.
The state championship is the first for the Lakeside boy's golf program since 1999.
"In a golf tournament like that anybody can win," Gilstrap said. "I felt like the best team won."
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