COLUMBIA — Varsity and junior varsity are not permanent labels given to Rock Bridge and Hickman boys golfers. The players have to earn their spot almost every week.
At the Columbia Classic played Monday at A.L. Gustin Golf Course, Rock Bridge and Hickman got a chance to play against some of the best high school teams in the state. For the Columbia schools, it was also a chance for junior varsity players to play in a varsity tournament.
The 14-team tournament featured two five-golfer teams from both Rock Bridge and Hickman and also included 10 other high school teams ranging from Kansas City to St. Louis. Normally, only the top-five players from each team get a chance to play in statewide tournaments.
"Our junior varsity is playing as if they're playing varsity today," Rock Bridge coach Doug Daniels said. "It's one thing to play well in practice, but it's another thing to do it against competition they don't know."
Although some of the junior varsity players finished well behind the rest of the competition, the coaches think it was a good opportunity for them to just get out and play golf.
"You get a good barometer of how the kids are doing against other really good players and how they manage a tough course (like A.L. Gustin)," Hickman coach Clark Swisher said.
Both coaches weren't too interested in how their junior varsity stacked up against a team like Rockhurst, who won the event with a team score of 308. The Columbia-school coaches were more interested in how well the junior varsity golfers played compared to their current varsity teammates.
Hickman has a much less experienced team than Rock Bridge, which leaves the door wide open for some junior varsity players to get some varsity action. Besides two juniors and one senior, the rest of the Hickman players are freshmen and sophomores.
"Most teams have three guys that are pretty solid, but usually the four through seven slots are competitive (between varsity and junior varsity)," said Swisher, whose varsity team finished tied for seventh. "We get a look at the second five guys who are battling for those four and five spots."
Juwan Mahaney, a junior from Hickman, had the lowest score for the Kewpies with an 82. He said the experience gained from playing in tournaments is necessary for younger golfers to develop.
"The big thing we're focusing on with them (junior varsity) is not getting mad at bad shots and just playing the game," Mahaney said.
Zachary Nichols, a sophomore from Hickman, is one of those golfers trying to crack one of the top five spots on varsity. Nichols said the opportunity to play against other varsity golfers will definitely help him throughout the season.
"It was good to see how other people play in certain situations, and you can pick up on that stuff," Nichols said. "Still deep down, you want to win, but it's nice to have that competition."
Daniels has a similar philosophy to managing varsity and junior varsity teams at Rock Bridge. Daniels, whose varsity team finished third, credits his team's talent and depth for the ability to swap varsity and junior varsity golfers regularly. The Bruins host qualifying practice rounds to determine varsity and junior varsity spots on a weekly basis.
The uncertainty of not having a permanent spot on either team challenges the golfers to get better every week.
Jack Knoesel, a sophomore from Rock Bridge, understands his top spot on varsity isn't guaranteed all season.
"We (varsity) understand they (junior varsity) want to be up here, and they understand we don't want to be down there," Knoesel said. "We're just pushing each other to become better."
Knoesel, who finished in fifth place individually with a score of 77, said he wouldn't be surprised if there were lineup changes later this week for the Bruins.
Neither coach would speculate if any junior varsity players earned a spot on varsity after today, but both agreed it was definitely possible.
Rock Bridge and Hickman will both be competing Thursday at the William Woods Invitational at Tanglewood Golf Course.