The North Forsyth girls golf team might not have believed Matt Loveless at first.
Loveless, in his first year coaching the Raiders after 16 years as the head boys golf coach at South, saw what his team was made of and determined that an appearance in the state championship was attainable, if the girls followed his guidance.
“I got a lot of chuckles in that first meeting in August,” Loveless said.
What Loveless was envisioning at that point had never happened before. But come Monday, it will, as both the boys and girls teams at North will compete in the state golf championship for the first time in school history.
For Loveless, coaching North – or coaching at all this year – hadn’t been part of a long-term plan. He lives in the north part of Forsyth County and had the opportunity to teach AP Human Geography at North, so he made the decision to come to the school just as a teacher. But when former girls golf head coach Daniel Lundy left for a position at Flowery Branch, North athletic director Scott Tilden convinced Loveless to lead the program.
He saw a strong senior leader in North Georgia signee Maggie Sullens and a talented freshman in Rillian West, giving the Raiders two players with the capability to shoot in the 70s, which Loveless saw as a requirement to get to state.
“Those two girls in and of themselves automatically put us in rarefied air,” Loveless said.
The process of getting there came with some uncertainty, though. North shot 270 as a team for the area meet, which Loveless called a “mediocre” performance, and finished sixth in their area, outside of the automatic qualifying threshold. But the Raiders’ score was 11th among the state’s teams and would put them first in one area.
Loveless had a feeling that the Georgia High School Association would put North in the state tournament as an at-large team, but the days between April 27, when the Raiders played in the area tournament, and May 10, when they found out they were in the state tourney, were anxious ones.
“It’s hard to explain the emotion of a team that’s never been there,” Loveless said. “Because I don’t think they know what a big deal it is until they actually experience it.”
North’s boys team had to go through the same waiting process. That team also finished sixth in the area tournament, but while the Raiders girls were 41 strokes clear of the seventh-place team, the boys finished just five ahead of Walton.
The Raiders had the eight-best area score in the scope of the whole state, though, led by a 72 from Nick Lasseter and 77 from Daniel Mathis, and the news that they had made state leaked out before head coach Rodney Moore could inform the team himself.
“I didn’t want to overly celebrate our area (performance), because we didn’t play our best,” Moore said. “I told them the best is yet to come.”
That’s how both teams feel about their chances heading into the state tournament, which will be held on Monday and Tuesday at the Chateau Elan Woodlands course in Braselton. It would take multiple players – perhaps the entire team – having the best rounds of their life for the Raiders to challenge for a state title, but either team would be happy just with reaching their full potential, something neither Loveless nor Moore thinks has happened this year.
But even if that doesn’t happen, the significance of reaching the state tournament for the first time won’t disappear.
“It’s not something you can really describe until you’ve been a part of it,” Loveless said. “Once they get there and see all the fanfare, and college coaches walking around taking notes, and the GHSA selling merchandise and all that stuff, they’ll understand.”