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Key players return for Eastside golf

COVINGTON - The best way to characterize the Eastside boys and girls golf team is experienced.

Four of the six girls players were on the team last year as were eight of the nine players on the boys team.

"All the guys we've got back this year have the experience of playing in the region and at the state level. They've got a year of maturity on them," Eastside boys coach Jay Cawthon said. "I think we're going to be very consistent."

Last season the boys missed out on being Region 8-AAAA champions by one stroke.

Even though they all have experience and don't want to let themselves down again, the fact that they moved to a new region, 8-AAA, will not make the task of winning region any easier.

If they hope to not repeat as runner-up, the boys are going to have to improve their mental aspect of the game.

"They're a very confident bunch, we just have to work on our mental aspect. They have a tendency to let bad shots carry over," Cawthon said.

"(Oconee County) has got a lot of tradition up there. But the coach said he's going to lose a lot of kids from last year. From what I hear, it's going to be us, them and Morgan County."

The top five players boys for Eastside are sophomores Tate Miller, Ace Cook and Nick Green and juniors J.T. Blaker and Taylor Lazenby.

"Our top five returning players can be a No. 1 on any team," Cawthon said. "All of them have that goal of being the medalist. But they all see the goal being a team goal, being a state qualifying team."

Four other players will rotate during the matches to fill in for the sixth spot.

They are Justin Norris (Jr.), Caleb Jackson (Soph.), Daniel Walton (Soph.) and Jordan Liefles (Fr.).

Experience is also going to be a factor for the girls with senior Caitlin Newman, junior Maggie Smith and sophomores Jessi Lindsey and Madison Raynor returning from last year.

Of the returning girls, Smith has done the most to improve her game during the offseason participating in various tournaments.

"I think the girl that has the most experience is Maggie because she played in some tournaments over the summer," Eastside girls coach Jason Grooms said.

"Maggie practices and plays during the offseason. It shows. Jessi and Emily (Almond) have also been playing a little bit, not so much tournament experience but they have been playing some."

Grooms has a lot of high hopes for Almond even though she's only a freshman.

"I'm really excited about a freshman we have named Emily Almond. She's athletic and she's hitting the ball real good right now," he said.

Also playing on the team is sophomore Taylor Ramsey.

If the girls golf team wants to make it to state as region champion, it will have to get past traditional powerhouse Oconee County.

"They have a girl that shoots around par. I'm sure they'll be a front-runner," Grooms said.

"Morgan County usually has a good team, Jackson County has a good team and other than that I'm not sure. It's going to be interesting this year because we won't get to see a lot of the teams play before the region because they are two hours away."

While Grooms has coached for several years, there are two things that set this team apart of other teams that he's been associated with - work ethic and athleticism.

"This group of girls have been one of the more athletic girls I've had in the last couple of years. I'm excited about this group," Grooms said. "They seemed to be willing to work and they have a good work ethic, they want to be better."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.