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Eagles take the right approach

Passionate Del Oro golfers are contending with rival Rocklin as SFL tournaments loom
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LINCOLN — While many area athletes enjoyed a break from competition last week, four of Del Oro High’s top golfers spent their spring break playing events at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento and Empire Ranch Golf Club in Folsom. Head coach Hal Steinback, who led the Golden Eagles to their last Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title in 1991 and has helmed the boys and girls golf programs at Del Oro for a combined 13 seasons, remembers athletes who would groan at the thought of practice. He can’t keep these golfers off the course. “They just love the game,” Steinback said. “You don’t have to force them to get out here. They want to be out here. They just really love the game of golf and they’re very passionate about it. It’s nice to have a group of kids who feed off each other’s passion.” Led by talented underclassmen Austin Smotherman and Eric Ash, Del Oro is tied with Rocklin atop the Sierra Foothill League standings and poised for its first team playoff berth in several years. “We haven’t made the playoffs in at least four, maybe five years,” Steinback said. “My first few years after taking over the program I was spoiled because we made it every year. It’s always been a very competitive league. It’s probably the best consistent overall golfing league in the valley.” This year’s Eagles have gone as deep as eight or nine golfers. Smotherman, a freshman with a 1.7 handicap, and Ash, a 4.7 handicap sophomore, lead the way despite playing at No. 5 and No. 6. “They’re good buddies,” Steinback said. “They play baseball together and their dads know each other. They’re real friendly. You want to play with somebody you’re compatible with, and they’re the younger guys. I just wanted to take the pressure off them. I didn’t want to stick Eric and Austin up there at No. 1 and No. 2 at the start of the year. I’ve had kids who kind of frowned at playing 5 or 6, but hey, you’re in the lineup.” Smotherman and Ash have been all smiles in embracing the opportunity. “Coach knows we’re really consistent and if we’re down coming into No. 5 and No. 6, he’s got confidence in us that we can beat our guys by a few strokes every time,” Smotherman said. “We just love playing golf. That translates to success.” Added Ash, “I like it because most of the guys rely on us. They trust us.” Senior Josh Vaughn, a four handicap, holds the No. 1 position for Del Oro. “He’s taken on the best No. 1 players from the other schools and competed very well and held his own,” Steinback said. “He’s come a really long way in four years. He’s competing against some very good scholarship players.” Junior J.J. Tadlock has been consistent at No. 2, while senior Evan Smith and junior Scott McKinney have earned the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively. “We’ve always had talent, but now we have such a deep team that has been getting it done on the course,” Vaughn said. “It’s been huge that the young guys got off to a great start.” Del Oro and Rocklin are both 6-2 in the SFL with four dual matches remaining. Nevada Union, which the Eagles host this afternoon, and perennial power Granite Bay are both close behind. “Home-course advantage is really important in golf,” said Steinback, whose Eagles also play cellar-dwellers in two of their final three SFL matches. “We’ve set ourselves up in pretty good position with three weeks left,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. You’ve got to accumulate enough points to get there, and we’re in pretty good shape right now.” Of even greater importance than the league duals are a pair of 18-hole SFL tournaments — April 20 at Sierra View Country Club in Roseville and April 27 at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln — in which the winning team earns seven points and runner-up earns six. Each dual match win is worth only one point. Three of the seven SFL teams advance to section playoffs based on final point totals. “Those tournaments are really important,” Smotherman said. “I think they’re going to determine who wins the league and goes to playoffs.” Del Oro finished second to Nevada state champion Spanish Springs at the 20-team Rocklin Invitational late last month, firing a combined team score of 400, ahead of Nevada Union (401), Granite Bay (402) and Rocklin (411). “That was the highlight of our year,” Steinback said. “Beating everybody from California in the tournament, that was nice. Junior golf is very competitive in this valley.” These Eagles are hoping for some long-awaited postseason highlights next month. “It would be huge to make playoffs this year,” Vaughn said. “Last year as an individual I ended up making it to the Sub-Sectionals but all I really wanted to see was the team go. That would be a much better experience.”