May 6, 2010 12:04:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Clay Stringer can feel it.
But Starkville Academy''s golfers must avoid another late hiccup to win a state championship.
Today''s Mississippi Association of Independent School Class AAA state tournament at Jackson Country Club will tell if Stringer''s senior-driven squad can close on a championship level after finishing four points from the top at North State.
Last week at Colonial Country Club''s Deerfield course, the Volunteers missed out on a chance for a second-straight North State championship.
Pillow Academy topped Heritage Academy in a playoff at North State, but Starkville Academy''s players enter today''s tournament confident their consistent scores throughout the season will strengthen their chances of topping North qualifiers and South State champ Jackson Prep.
Stringer believes the South is down from last year, but admits his team can''t afford to leave shots on the course.
Starkville Academy has had four different golfers shoot lower than 80 at different events during the season and three different golfers have led the Vols at tournaments.
Starkville Academy''s No. 1, junior Korn Simsiriwong, leads the Vols with a 77 average. She was third low medalist at North State, while Thomas Boydstun took fourth low medalist after winning a three-hole playoff.
Roy Miles was one stroke away from a medal at Deerfield, shooting an 82.
"I feel like the team as a whole, as far as the group of six, is better than the team we had last year," Stringer said. "Even though we lost two quality golfers, every one of our kids have improved.
"Heritage''s invitational three weeks ago, we had four scores in the 70s. We never had that last year and never had a consistent four finishers. It was always one or two at the top, then higher scores after that."
Boydstun, according to Stringer, is a prime example of the Vols'' top-to-bottom consistency he believes puts them in a better position for a trophy.
Stringer described Boydstun''s 2009 season as "up and down," as the junior would impress with solid round but follow with one, sometimes two sub-par rounds.
"I''m just a lot more consistent this year with my focus," Boydstun said. "I try not to throw up a lot of high numbers, though I''ve had some holes where I''ve felt I could have done better. My scores this year are better than year''s past. I shot a good 77 at Columbus, and I was real proud of what I did last week. I''ve gotten a lot better from my sophomore and to my junior year."
Simsiriwong was a consistent top-3 team finisher for the Vols last season, and after a year of growing stronger and competing in PGA Juniors events she''s comfortable in her role as the team''s top scorer.
It''s a role she didn''t have to fill on the varsity team last season with then-seniors Camp Pittman and Josh Senter as the top placers.
On the big stage, however, Simsiriwong had her strongest finish of the 2009 season with a fifth-place 77 at the state tournament. She was Starkville Academy''s only golfer to advance to the MAIS Overall State tournament. Pittman and Senter carded 85 and 92, respectively, as Simsiriwong carried the team at the pinnacle event.
"Last year, I just didn''t feel it and I didn''t hit the ball as good," Simsiriwong said. "This year, since I''ve grown some, I hit the ball farther and I just feel a lot more confident every time I play. I''ve gotten in the 70s this year, but we''ve actually got everybody in the 70s so I''m excited about our chances in the tournament."
The team''s depth and consistency is powered by state championship experience in Roy Miles and John Kyle Hewlett, who each shot 90 last year. Seniors Justin Pritchard and Roy Goodwin shot 88 and 96, respectively, at Deerfield. Simsiriwong has benefited by playing without pressure to fire in the high 70s or better each time the Vols play, Stringer said.
The tourney-ending drama at Deerfield has Stringer keen to see a flawless performance at JCC''s Azalea and Dogwood -- courses none of Starkville Academy''s golfers have played before.
"Last week, we had three players who were very disappointed in the way they finished," Stringer said. "We were only four shots off first place and our last couple of holes weren''t great. We didn''t play as well at Deerfield as we would have liked, but really, no one else did either. It was a pretty tough course and I think the Jackson County Club is a little bit more accustomed to us and our strengths. I''m looking forward to seeing if we can put four good quality rounds together and win this thing."
The Vols left campus around noon Tuesday to make a 3 p.m. practice round at JCC. Boydstun, though he''s never played a course he described as "tight," is confident the unfamiliarity with the tree-lined course won''t be an issue.
"I''m curious to see how it''s going to play, but we seem to get better every tournament no matter where we''re at," Boydstun said. "We definitely have one more good tournament in us, and hopefully it''ll be Wednesday."
Tee times were scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. today.