Bishop McGuinness’ players praised coach Pearse Mahon for his easygoing attitude. The jokes he cracks on the course and the Irish music he plays for the team keeps the mood light.
The Villains may not have won another championship, however, without Mahon showing a stern side to his young players toward the end of the Northwest 1-A/2-A Conference season.
“We had a talk about what they assumed,” Mahon said. “It felt like the team thought all they had to do was get out of the bus and they’d get a victory. Things have been kind of going easy for them. There was a complacency to their play and I had to kind of straighten them out.”
Mission accomplished. Every player on the team started performing better through the conference tournament, regional and then the NCHSAA 1-A Championship at Chapel Hill Country Club. McGuinness rolled to its third straight title with a third straight blowout.
Two years ago, the Villains bested West Montgomery by 48 shots. Last year, Lake Norman Charter was the second-place team, 52 shots back. This time around, the Villains shot 611 (305-306) to beat Charter by 36 shots.
“This year was different than the last two,” said Tanner Owen, the individual medalist. “The last two years we had such an amazing team. This year we had been quite erratic. It was a little stressful because nobody knew what might happen.”
Granted, folks had a pretty good idea of what Owen would do. The junior, who has verbally committed to Wake Forest, placed second in the state as a freshman – three shots behind teammate Stanhope Johnson – and finished fourth last year, five back of repeat-medalist Johnson.
This year, Owen fired a 2-under-par 70 in the opening round, leading sophomore teammate Jonathon Davis by four shots for individual honors. A second-round 73 left Owen at 1-under for the tournament, six shots ahead of West’s Dylan Kennedy.
“I putted very, very well, and that’s something that has been my weakness in winter and early spring,” Owen said. “I didn’t get off the tee well both days.”
Davis tied for fourth place but settled for fifth after Charter’s Blake Fiest birdied the second playoff hole. Still, Davis’ 74-78 was nothing to complain about. He spent much of the year as McGuinness’ No. 4 scorer.
“It felt really good to be 1-2 in the standings after the first day,” Davis said. “I think that gave everybody a good confidence boost, took the pressure off a little bit. I’m not disappointed with fourth in the state. I would have liked to give Tanner a run for his money that second day.”
The rest of the Villains weren’t far off Owen’s pace. Mason Orr and Kevin Sowinski tied for 13th overall. Orr shot 80-78, while Sowinski came in at 81-77. Orr and Owen had been atop the McGuinness leaderboard most of the year, but Sowinski – just a freshman – normally was No. 5. He shot a 73 at regionals.
“I can’t say I didn’t expect him to play well. I did,” Mahon said. “But I didn’t expect him to play that well. Around the conference tournament, he started to get it going.”
Even McGuinness’ last two players – Zack Shields (84-91) and Robert Brooks (94-92) would have helped the other 11 teams in the field. Their teammates were simply too strong to allow room in the scoring column: In the second round, the Villains’ top four all came in with scores in the 70s.
“That’s just awesome,” Mahon said. “It’s great for a golfer to produce when it means the most. In my years of coaching the Bishop McGuinness golf team, that seems to be what they do. I’ve had guys produce at the right time. “
Mahon just wrapped up his sixth year with the team, which traditionally has been a loose-knit group of great golfers. Mahon is well known for joking with his players, who joke with each other – even in high-pressure situations such as the state tournament.
After the first round, the players gathered to watch a movie. And they always get ready for matches by listening to some of Mahon’s Irish favorites, such as the tune “Never Mind the Strangers” by Irish rock band The Saw Doctors.
Owen first heard it two years ago: “ ‘What in the world have I gotten myself into?’ It kind of caught on right away. Coach has some culture to share. It’s a lot of fun.”
In the end, the fun times figure to be remembered more than the day Mahon had to set his team straight. That may not bode well for the rest of the state – if the Villains learned their lesson about being complacent, what might a focused McGuinness squad accomplish next year with all six players returning?
“I’m not looking forward,” Mahon said. “I’m just enjoying this.”