Sectional format toughens state golf championships

Many of these teams and players would be there anyway.

Teams like Peachtree Ridge's and Grayson's boys and Brookwood's and North Gwinnett's girls won their region titles and region champions always get a team nod to the state championship. As do the runners-up. But that left a third-place team home. And for the past two years, in Region 7-AAAAAA that team was Duluth.

But, with the addition of a sectional qualifier, the Wildcats' team earned a spot in Monday's Class AAAAAA girls state tournament at Sunset Country Club in Moultrie. They finished seventh in the sectional.

"This got us there," Duluth head coach Stephen Fairchild said of the first Duluth girls team to reach the state tournament since 1998. "Last year it was by one stroke. Sectionals really, really ... finally."

And what the new format really meant was better teams and individuals playing Monday, in every classification.

Take Duluth. The Wildcats shot a team score of 274, finishing third. The Wildcats' team score was lower than the runners-up from three other regions, two of which were above 300. In years past, those teams would have been playing Monday, while Duluth's players took finals.

"In the past that's always been the trouble, that you would have some very, very weak teams in the field," said Mill Creek head coach Ben Hanes, whose girls team qualified for state, finishing tied for second with Dacula in the sectional. "It should have an improvement in terms of better competition down there (at the state tournament)."

Other county coaches echo Hanes' pleasure with the adjusted format. Most see needs for small tweaks, but all agree the play at the tournament should improve.

"The 16 teams that are there, they are better than the 16 teams that were there last year," Peachtree Ridge coach Bert Green said. "There are still some good teams that didn't quite make the tournament."

From Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge, Grayson and Norcross will represent the boys in Class AAAAAA and Brookwood, North, Dacula, Mill Creek and Duluth will represent the girls. In Class AAA the Buford girls won their region title and the boys were runners-up and qualified for state at sectionals, making a busy day for the Wolves head coach Justin Johnson. The Wesleyan and GAC boys also qualified in Class AA and the GAC girls will defend their Class AA title.

"From all the coaches, we definitely think the sectional is a good idea, Norcross boys coach Chris Hall said. "To have, potentially, four teams from one region to make it to state. It worked out well across the state."

The Norcross and Peachtree Ridge boys head south with high hopes of returning with a trophy. As do the Brookwood, North, Dacula and Mill Creek girls. The GAC girls won the title a year ago and GAC and Wesleyan finished second and third in the Class AA sectional, putting them among the top schools in their classification.

And then there's Duluth, finally making the trip as a team.

"It's good for us, it's good for Gwinnett County," Fairchild said. "Going as a team and not as an individual is a good cap to the season."