Derick Paxton has had a successful summer.
The Langley senior golfer has medaled in several of the individual tournaments he’s entered, including a recent stretch of three wins in a row. One of those triumphs came in the wings of a course record-tying 63 at Herndon Centennial Golf Club; the second-place finisher shot even-par 71.
Paxton will team with fellow senior Will Byrne this fall to lead a loaded Langley squad on its quest to defend last year’s Virginia Group AAA state title, the school’s first since 2000. Key roles for 2011 All-Met performers Byrne, Chris Brugge and Edric Wung won’t surprise many onlookers, but Paxton’s place alongside Byrne at the top of the pecking order has caught some off guard, including his own coach.
Although Byrne still was a steady force two years ago, Paxton teetered on the fringe of the starting lineup. He was more an impressive all-around athlete than he was a pure golfer, as dedication to ice hockey and baseball occupied time away from the course. Low scores here and there hinted at Paxton’s potential, but coach Al Berg wasn’t sure his young player was completely committed to golf.
“I was pretty certain that I was going to lose him to baseball,” said Berg, who enters his 17th season leading the Saxons. “I underestimated him vastly as a sophomore and felt awful that at the end of the year I hadn’t played him more. But instead of getting dejected about not getting playing time, he just kind of redoubled his efforts.”
All doubts about Paxton’s dedication should be cast aside now that he has decided to devote his senior year solely to golf. That’s unwelcome news to Liberty District competitors who must deal with a Saxons squad that returns five of six starters from last season’s state championship lineup.
Yet even with a roster deeper than an ocean trench, Paxton and company won’t be taking anything for granted this fall.
“Coming off that state championship we’re feeling good, but there are always good teams out there that we might not even know about that can compete,” Paxton said. “We feel we can bring it back again, but you never know about other teams, so we can’t get too cocky about it.”
Indeed, Langley must contend with a handful of teams brimming with young talent this year. Although longtime rival Chantilly, which finished second to Langley in the region and state last year, lost seven seniors, it brings back a litany of players capable of going low. Among them is junior Ju Hee Bae, last season’s Concorde District individual champion. Madison, another traditional power, also boasts a squad led by up-and-comers, chief among them sophomore Shannon Brooks and freshman Amber Liu. The Warhawks made a statement this past Thursday when they beat Langley by one stroke in the teams’ first 9-hole match of the year.
Then there are teams such as Thomas Jefferson, whose addition of freshman standout Nathan Chuwait has invigorated a group already bolstered by defending Liberty District champion sophomore Julie Luo. Centreville also will look to make noise with senior leadership led by Chris Song and Shaan Kololgi.
Paxton might be wary of his competitors this fall, but he won’t fear them. The Langley co-captain has grown more accustomed to the pressures of tournament play with every competition he’s entered this summer. It’s all part of an effort to not only prepare for his team’s state title defense, but to get looks from college recruiters who might have overlooked him in the past.
“I think he just enjoys competition,” Berg said. “He doesn’t get nervous or frazzled. He’s a very tough player.”
Although the pressure of posting solid scores to attract recruiters might linger, Paxton can take comfort in knowing that a disappointing round might be nullified by the performances of the five other players in the Saxons’ starting lineup, all of whom are capable of shooting 75 or better. That balance was on display this past week in the Stallion Invitational at Laurel Hill Golf Club, where Langley’s A and B teams both finished ahead of the rest of the field.
“It’s huge having a bunch of good golfers around,” Paxton said. “We’ve all known each other for a solid four years. We have a lot of fun. We push each other to get better since we’re all pretty good golfers, so it makes for some fun competition on the team for sure.”
If they play to their potential, competition within the team might be the only thing the Saxons need to worry about in the coming weeks.