Season Lost: Truckee senior Owen Slusher eyes future after final year of golf taken away
As the Truckee boys’ golf team hoisted the 2019 Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association state championship trophy, thoughts were already swirling in the minds of players, coaches, and parents about the team’s potential going into 2020.
The boys had just claimed the program’s first state title since 2009, and were undefeated through the regular season in the Northern League. With all four of the team’s best players coming back in 2020, the Wolverines were definitive favorites to repeat as champions.
Instead, an unprecedented global pandemic hit the spring golf season like a tee shot slicing far off into the weeds, resulting in the cancellation of this year’s competitions, including state and regional tournaments.
For three of the team’s leading golfers, junior Ethan Flynn, junior Jack Brown, and sophomore Gabe Smith, there will be more chances to compete at the high school level, but for last year’s seventh-place finisher at the state championship tournament, senior Owen Slusher, the loss of spring sports marks a stolen season, something he’ll never get back.
“I don’t think it’s really going to set in for a while,” said Slusher. “The chances of us winning again were just as high, if not, way higher (than last year). We all got way better.”
Since last fall Slusher and his teammates have been honing their games in preparation for the season. From working out twice a day, to rushing home from school to hit balls, Slusher said he and the other defending state champion Wolverines had taken their play to the next level ahead of the season.
“We were really ready to get after it out there,” said Slusher.
While high school sports have been called off at a state level, the Wolverines will still have a final chance to suit up together, having received an invite to return to the Boys High School Golf National Invitational. The national tournament will feature 324 of the top high school golfers from state championship teams across the nation.
Truckee played in the inaugural tournament last year and finished 15th as a team.
Due to the season being canceled, the Wolverines have been invited to return as representatives of Nevada. This year the tournament will move from courses at Walt Disney World to North Carolina’s historic Pinehurst Resort, a place Slusher said will be the most iconic and historic venue he’s ever played at.
The tournament is planned for June 29 through July 1, and will be played at Pinehurst No. 5, Pinehurst No. 6, and Pinehurst No. 8. Pinehurst Resort features nine 18-hole golf courses, which have hosted some of the biggest tournaments in the sport, including a PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, and several U.S. Opens.
Off the course
While Slusher is one of many student-athletes to lose the spring season, he’s also part of a large group of seniors from across the nation that won’t get to participate in events traditionally tied to the final year of high school like prom, graduation, and grad night.
“You’re not getting those back and there’s no way you can get those back,” he said. “It’s weird to think about that you don’t get to graduate with all of your friends. You don’t get to see those people anymore. It’s never happened to anyone else. I don’t think it will settle in until I go off to college.”
Slusher said he plans on attending Santa Barbara City College in the fall, and will play for the men’s golf team.
He said he talked with a few schools last year about playing at the collegiate level, but due to Santa Barbara’s location, the allure of living on the coast, and access to nearby golf courses, Slusher said he intends on formally signing with the Vaqueros in the coming weeks. He added that he’s undecided as to what he will study, but said he’s leaning toward computer science.
Since joining the team as freshmen, Slusher and fellow senior Mason Cutler have helped lead a resurgence of the program. Their freshmen year also marked the first season that Marc Smith took over as head coach.
“They set a great example for the classes beneath them,” said Smith. “It was good to see them grow with the game of golf, but also into adults.”
Other seniors listed on Truckee’s roster included Zach Poncelet, Isaac Cruz, and Lucas Kraatz.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. In the coming weeks the Sierra Sun will look to highlight local athletes, whose seasons have been affected by COVID-19. To suggest an athlete, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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The Truckee girls’ cross-country team raced to a runner-up finish at today’s Class 3A Northern League championships.