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C. JEMAL HORTON COLUMN: In one magnificent spring, the Northwest boys golf team erased more than 3 decades of futility | Latest Headlines

C. JEMAL HORTON

CONCORD – There aren’t many teams in Cabarrus County – in any sport – that made the astounding leap that the Northwest Cabarrus boys golf team did this spring.







C. JEMAL HORTON

jhorton@independenttribune.com


And it’s likely few teams in all of North Carolina did.

Consider this: When the Trojans won a South Piedmont 3A Conference match last month, it was believed to be their first taste of victory – of ANY kind – since “some time back in the ’90s.”

It’s been so long, apparently no one affiliated with the school’s decorated sports history can recall.

Then, just last week, the Trojans took their dream 2022 season to a whole ‘nother level: Not only did they win a second match, they outright won the SPC tournament championship in the process.

Now, we’re not exactly sure when it was in the 1990s that Northwest had its last win, but there’s a really good chance that most of the players’ parents were teenagers getting ready for prom the last time it happened.

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So when the Orange and Black bunch of Gavin Slawter, Jacob Pasch, Cooper Burris, Talan Harrison, Parker Thiery and Logan Swanger joined coach Ricky Patton in hoisting the hardware on April 25, well, it had a little extra meaning to it.

This win wasn’t just for the 2022 team; it was for all those Trojans who had taken their swings over the past 30 years or so and come up short.

This was about six kids banding together and leaving their mark on a program and, yes, a school.

“This group got really excited about what they did,” said Patton, who is in his second year coaching the Trojans. “It’s been a while since Northwest Cabarrus has had a really good golf team. Going back and talking with (Jason) Adams, our former (athletics director), he really thinks the last time that Northwest might’ve had a team that won a golf match was some time back in the 90s.

“It’s been really exciting to be a part of this group because they really get out there and they work. They enjoy golf, they enjoy being around each other, and that’s important – that the kids enjoy being around each other, that they play hard for each other.”

Age ain’t nothing but a number

The Trojans are a close group, but they’re also a really young group.

The team’s two lowest scorers are underclassmen: Harrison, a freshman, and Burris, a sophomore. Both golfers have established themselves on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, and they both made smooth transitions to high school golf, where they’re many times playing against older competitors.

Burris was at Northwest Cabarrus last year, and although the season was abbreviated because of COVID-19, he proved he has what it takes to excel. His performance by him was especially impressive for a ninth-grader.

At last season’s Class 3A state tournament, Burris was in really good position for most of the day to compete for the win. Unfortunately, he lost a ball in the fairway and had to take a penalty stroke. He had a hard time getting back into contention after that, but it was one of the early indications that the Trojans were moving toward respectability.

Burris ranked second on the team with a 36.8 average over nine holes this season, and he was the top individual performer in one SPC match.

“You could tell Cooper was very special as a freshman,” Patton said. “(His performance by him at the state meet) was very promising coming into this year.”

It also helped that the Trojans were set to get a supremely talented young player who was already making waves for tearing up middle-school competition while also excelling on the junior circuit.

His name was Talan Harrison.

“I had heard plenty of good things about Talan,” Patton said. “He was competing in those junior golf tournaments, and people told me he was coming up. And he didn’t disappoint. I have lived up to everything I had heard.”

Harrison led the Trojans this spring with a nine-hole stroke average of 34.5, and he was a regular near the top of the leaderboard in SPC matches, even grabbing medalist honors on two occasions.

His poise and technique on the greens were what always helped keep him in the running, even if he started with a wayward shot off the tee.

“Talan is by far the best putter in the conference, and that helps him on the golf course,” Patton said. “When he steps up to a long putt, he’s got a chance to make it. He doesn’t leave short putts; they always look like they’re going in. He doesn’t three-putt very often. You can probably count on one hand how many times he’s three-putted all year.”

Harrison finished second in the conference tournament, only one stroke behind medalist Jaden Sprinkle of East Rowan.

Harrison and Burris also both qualified for the Harold Varner III Invitational, a relatively new but highly regarded event on the junior golf tour, in Gaston County last month.

“They played in that a couple weeks ago, back during the stretch when it was really windy,” Patton said of Harrison and Burris. “They’ve had to play in some tough conditions, and I just think those guys playing all that competitive golf, it translates. They show up to these high school matches, and they’re not nervous; they’re just ready to go out there and play their game.”

Another talented freshman, Swanger, also stepped in and was a top scorer for the Trojans this season. His average of 42.8 ranked third on the team. And like Harrison and Burris, Swanger also was a mainstay on the junior circuit and frequently joined them to put in work at Cabarrus Country Club, even when the team wasn’t practicing.

And then there’s Slawter, the lone upperclassman on the roster. Slawter also provided valuable scoring for the Trojans this season, but his contributions to the team went beyond his 44.2 average.

“We’ve got the one senior in Gavin, and I think he kind of keeps the mood light a lot of times,” Patton explained. “He seems to break things up when everybody might be getting a little serious. He’ll kind of crack a joke or whatever.”

Patton also spoke highly of the impact of Pasch, a junior, and Thiery, another freshman.

“It’s just a good group of kids,” Patton said. “They mesh really well together, and they want each other to be successful. It’s a really special group, and I’m really lucky to have those guys.”

Considering their rough history, it’s no surprise the Trojans weren’t expected to wind up anywhere near a championship level this season.

In the SPC, that distinction lay almost expressly with Huntersville Lake Norman Charter. And there was a great reason: The Knights had won three consecutive Class 2A state championships before moving up to 3A this year.

“Lake Norman Charter … kind of came in with the reputation that they were the ‘Big Dawg’ coming up from 2A into our league,” Patton said. “And they put some lumps on us early, and it kind of became one of those things where a lot of our kids wanted to step up and compete with those guys.

“Lake Norman Charter is really consistent across the board, so (its players) all know that it takes a complete team effort to compete with them. And I think that really challenged our guys, and they stepped up to that challenge, and they’ve pushed themselves, they’ve pushed each other. They’ve just worked hard all season to get to where we’ve been the past couple of weeks.”

Lake Norman Charter still won the SPC regular-season title, with Northwest coming in second. But for a program that wasn’t even supposed to be anywhere near the Knights of the world, it only whetted the Trojans’ appetite as the regular season came to a close.

When the Trojans hit the Country Club of Salisbury for the SPC tournament last week, there were no nerves, no sense that they didn’t belong, no negative thoughts about what Northwest HADN’T done in the past. There was only determination, a belief that – together – they could do anything.

In a fight until the very end, the Trojans edged Lake Norman Charter by a single stroke, 320-321, to win the SPC tournament crown.

Not only were they conference champions, but they’d earned a team spot in the 2A Midwest Regional tournament, which starts Monday, also at the Country Club of Salisbury.

Lake Norman Charter, West Rowan and Carson are the other SPC teams that will be competing Monday. Central Cabarrus’ Ryan Masterton, thanks to a strong season, qualified for regionals as an individual.

After the strides they’ve made as a program this season, the Trojans enter regionals emboldened, undaunted.

Seeing the transformation, Patton marvels at his squad.

This clearly isn’t your father’s Northwest Cabarrus boys golf team.

“They’re starting to come together, they’re starting to feel some of those successes, and I think it’s making them hungrier,” said Patton. “So I’m excited for what’s coming up here in the next couple weeks.

“I think the guys are looking forward to (regionals). Looking at the regional entry list, you can go through it and look at the averages of the teams, and we’re right there in the mix with being able to accomplish something pretty special this year.”

Most golf courses – with their rules on collared shirts, khaki britches and hushed voices – aren’t exactly known for being places for boisterous celebrations.

But when the Trojans take their final swings Monday, after the decades of mediocrity they’ve erased this spring, they still deserve to party like it’s, well, 1990-something.

Cabarrus County’s Regional Qualifiers

At Sapona Country Club, Lexington

At Country Club of Salisbury

At Oak Valley Golf Course, Advance

2A MIDWEST

At Sapona Country Club, Lexington

Mount Pleasant

justin blake

Jacob Craver

Gavin Shoe

3A MIDWEST

At Country Club of Salisbury

Central Cabarrus

Ryan Masterton

Northwest Cabarrus

Cooper Burris

Talan Harrison

Jacob Pasch

Gavin Slawter

logan swanger

4A Midwest

At Oak Valley Golf Course, Advance

Cox Mill

Dylan Abbott

matt gala

Britton Smith

Bennett Trimble

Kaden Weinhardt

Hickory Ridge

Brandon-Jones

peyton norris

Luke Sbardella

Cabarrus County’s Regional Golf Qualifiers

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