VASSALBORO — As a fivesome walks along the Natanis Golf Course on a gorgeous, sun-drenched autumn afternoon, trading barbs and advice equally, one wouldn’t guess there was anything special about this group of golfers as they talk about PGA Tour professionals like Rory McIlroy or Henrik Stenson.

In fact, they look like exactly what they are: A group of high school students taking in a round of golf after a day of teachers, tests and teenage angst.

But this group, Erskine Academy golf coach Mark Bailey insists, is special.

“In 1998, we finished fourth in the conference and I always remembered that as being my best team,” Bailey said. “But I think these guys will definitely take over that spot when it’s all said and done.”

That’s because on Tuesday this current convocation of Eagles — just days after winning the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Shootout — won the first KVAC B championship in Erskine history. With two seniors, two sophomores and one junior, the Eagles carded a school-record team score of 316.

“It feels awesome,” said senior Robert Harmon. “We’ve all been working hard this summer, and it’s paid off.”

Hanging at Erskine on Wednesday was a banner congratulating the team on winning KVACs, earning the team a trip to the Class B state team championship Saturday at Natanis, their home course. All five players also qualified for the individual state championships Oct. 15.

“It felt pretty good, actually,” senior Brandon Keezer said. “In the first match of the year, we shot a 157 and that broke the team record for Erskine. I kind of realized then that this could be a pretty good year.”

Sophomore Connor Paine and junior Aaron Pion have shared the roles as the team’s No. 1 throughout this season. Paine is self-motivated and serious — during Wednesday’s practice round at Natanis he often scuttled off to try and correct elements of his swing. Pion, who transferred back to Erskine after a year at Winslow, leads the chirping and has earned the ironic nickname of “Humble Pie.”

In a sport as highly individualized as golf, the team concept is a significant one for the Eagles.

“I really think the chemistry is an important part of it,” Pion said. “I think it’s actually more important in an individual sport like this. It’s more important to be a team and get along and come together. Instead of just focusing on yourself, it relieves pressure on yourself knowing you have a team to fall back on if you do have an off day.”

Paine said the pressure of having so many players capable of competing in the No. 1 slot during match play is a benefit.

“I think our games are similar and that’s helped us,” Paine said. “What surprised me most is how we all jelled together. Before, there’d be some conflict over who was competing for No. 1. That’s just the way things go with teenagers. As the year went on, we all had a great time and it was the most fun season I’ve ever had.”

Not everyone in the group is a lifelong golfer, and the least likely candidate to have avoided the game for as long as he did was sophomore Justin Browne. Browne’s family owns Natanis, but that doesn’t mean he was eager to pick up the clubs.

“I only started playing three years ago. I was a really good baseball player and I didn’t want to touch golf with a 10-foot pole,” said Browne, who did work at the course during the summers. “I played in a scramble (tournament) for workers, and I just kind of fell in love with it. I’ve been working really hard on it since then.”

Bailey sees the team’s identity and its cohesiveness,as a huge reason for the milestone season.

The team has succeeded because individuals — such as Harmon and Keezer qualifying for the individual states for the first time in their careers — have enjoyed their best years.

“They are concerned about their teammates and that’s the thing I’ve preached since Day 1,” Bailey said. “Once they started showing that concern for each other, that’s when everybody started playing better.”

It’s also why Paine deftly deflects any questions about whether or not this team can win the Class B state championship on a course in knows well.

“What’s more important than winning to us is that we all have a good time,” Paine said.

And on a gorgeous fall afternoon at Natanis, whether an errant drive finds the woods or a 15-yard chip rolls to within a few feet of the cup, that’s readily apparent with this group.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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