CANTON -- Cherokee announced its return to the state golf scene this season.
Coach Gerald Sharpe said he expected his team to compete, but the Warriors went beyond even his expectations, with runner-up finishes in the county and area championships and a tie for fourth in the Class AAAAAAA championship, just two strokes out of second place.
“We definitely exceeded the expectation,” Sharpe said. “We thought we would be ready to come in and give ourselves a chance this year, but the guys did even more than I thought they would.”
There were signs Cherokee was ready for a breakthrough.
Steve Kibare and Harrison Smith each qualified for the state tournament as individuals a season ago, and they returned this year with renewed motivation to play well as a team.
“For Steve and Harry, the two who went before, they really came back with an urgency to try to push the other ones to work,” said Sharpe, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Boys Golf Coach of the Year. “We were excited to take two individuals, but we really wanted to take the whole team.”
The Warriors showed last year they had the individual players to compete, but they needed more low scores to have a chance as a team.
That is where freshman Blake Henriques came in to push the top two and even came away with low medalist honors at the county championship.
“It’s just really good,” Sharpe said. “Competition only makes you better. All three of them at the top were capable of shooting really well. They all wanted to be the best guy, and that’s what you want.”
The internal competition paid off most when Cherokee, which plays and practices at the Fairways of Canton and Bridgemill, was facing its toughest external challenges.
In the county, Cherokee lost only to Class AAAAAA runner-up Creekview, while beating out state tournament teams Sequoyah and Woodstock. In the area, the Warriors lost to eventual state champion West Forsyth by a stroke and tied with state runner-up Walton.
“The competition is really good,” Sharpe said. “Our area sent six teams to state, and we all finished in the top nine. We thought we had other teams that could have gotten in too. There’s no doubt. This is the best area in the state.”
To help prepare his team for those challenges, Sharpe focused on the intangible aspects of golf.
He said his players were already prepared for the physical mechanics of the sport, so he honed in on the mental facets and shot selection.
“You work on their mental game a lot,” he said. “You have to know what you’re doing in that respect. Even though they’re very good golfers, they have to understand it’s sometimes better to take your lumps than take a heroic shot that will give you a big number.”
Sharpe admitted his team may have snuck up on other teams this year, but that will not be the case next season.
The Warriors return five of their top six players, and while the rest of the state will be prepared for them, they will come back with more experience and motivation.
“They are very motivated,” Sharpe said. “We had two very motivated. Now we have five coming back motivated to do even better. They’re going to work and push each other every day to get better.”