When you have coached golf as long as Matt Graves has at River Hill, you learn to be wary of hype.
Tales of impressive incoming golfers who can bomb the ball off the tee or regularly post low scores are fairly common. Having players who can actually back up the lofty claims on the golf course, however, are much more infrequent.
So naturally, as Graves heard all about a talented freshmen duo that had officially enrolled at River Hill last fall, he tempered his expectations. He wanted to watch Benjamin Siriboury and Helen Yeung perform with his own eyes in a real high school match before getting too excited.
As it turned out, after waiting an extra six months for opening day because of the coronavirus pandemic, his newcomers were even better than advertised.
“I knew about both of them for quite awhile coming up through the PGA Junior League program at Hobbit’s Glen, but I didn’t want to heap a ton of expectations on them based on what everyone else was saying. That’s a lot to put on freshmen,” said Graves, who has been coach for the Hawks since golf became a varsity sport in Howard County again in 2005. “After our first match this year, with Benjamin shooting one-under and Helen a couple over, there was no doubt though that they were the real deal. They were ready for the spotlight.”
The wealth of competitive tournament experience went a long way for both Siriboury and Yeung all spring. The duo posted two of the top five scoring averages among the boys or girls during the regular season, swept the titles at the county championship tournament and have now both been named the Howard County Golfers of the Year.
It’s the first time River Hill has had a boys and girls player win top honors in the same season.
“They represent the future of not only River Hill golf, but Howard County golf. And it’s a very bright future,” Graves said.
Siriboury says he’s been swinging plastic golf clubs since he first started walking and began taking a more serious approach to the game by the time he was 6. His father introduced him to the game and he has fond memories of playing just the two of them in those early stages.
By the time he reached middle school, though, he began meeting and playing with players closer to his age. One of those players was Yeung.
After their families first met at a swim meet, followed by running into one another again soon after at Hobbit’s Glen golf club, a friendship began to form.
“I’m Thai and she’s Thai, so we had that in common. And we seemed to be interested in some of the same things, so since we were both up at the course at the same time a lot, it just kind of made sense to start playing together,” Siriboury said.
Yeung started playing golf much later than Siriboury, instead focusing her early athletic endeavors on things such as figure skating, swimming, horseback riding and ballet. But soon after first picking up a club around the age of 10, she was hooked.
Alongside her younger sister Michelle, who has developed into a talented player in her own right, daily trips to the golf course quickly became routine.
“My uncle first introduced us to the game while we were spending a summer in Thailand, and I don’t remember being that good right away. We weren’t really that focused or anything, just more having fun with it,” Yeung said. “It wasn’t too long, though, before I noticed how much better I was getting the more I practiced. And I think that’s what I love the most about golf, you keep learning new things and the more time you put in, the better you can get.”
Over the last few years, the Yeung sisters and Siriboury have played more rounds together than they can count. The trio even played on the same team together as part of the PGA Junior League program at Hobbit’s Glen.
It’s that prior team experience that had Helen particularly enthusiastic about starting at River Hill.
“Golf is such an independent sport, but joining the junior league team taught me so much about playing for more than just yourself,” she said. “Now, it’s exciting to get to represent my school.”
Yeung and Siriboury represented the Hawks well all spring.
Siriboury shot 28 points (one-under par) in his opening round of the season and followed that up with 27 points in his only other regular season match. His 27.5 average was the best in the county among boys players who played in multiple matches.
He carried that steady play into the county championship tournament, winning with a two-over par round of 74. He made only one birdie over his 18 holes, but it was his six straight pars to close the day that secured him the one-shot win.
“I try to always pick my spots and just stay patient,” Siriboury said. “The biggest thing is not letting the play of the players around me affect what I’m doing. I know when it’s time to be aggressive and when to play conservative.”
Yeung put up rounds of 25 points in each of her regular-season matches before setting a county-record with her two-under-par score of 70 at the county championship tournament. She made four birdies, two bogeys and all the rest pars on the way to the lowest score by a girls player in the history of the event.
Even with the historic round, however, Yeung carried with her a stoic demeanor.
“Helen has a little bit of a quiet swagger, where she doesn’t say much but lets her game do the talking,” Graves said. “She’s really comfortable with her driver, which allows her to attack the golf course and set herself up for lots of birdie chances.”
While this spring went even better than anticipated, Graves said he’s even more excited for the fall when there will hopefully be regional and state tournaments once again. In those events, Siriboury and Yeung will get to join forces.
“You will be hard-pressed to find a better one-two combination in the state … and I’m excited to see them get a chance to play on that stage,” Graves said.
BOYS GOLF FIRST TEAM
Justin Allen, Marriotts Ridge senior
A first team All-County selection for a third straight season, Allen averaged 21.5 points between two regular-season matches and then finished fourth at the county championship tournament with a round of 79.
Justin Gutierrez, Reservoir junior
Gutierrez built on a second-team All-County season as a sophomore, averaging 23.3 points per match in three outings during the regular season and then placing third at the county championship tournament with a round of 78.
Henry Hilger, Wilde Lake sophomore
It was a breakthrough season for Hilger, who averaged 18 points per match as a freshman. This spring, he upped that number to 21.8 points per match over five rounds with a season high of 27 points. He finished in a tie for eighth at the county tournament with a round of 82.
Akash Marakath, Marriotts Ridge senior
An All-County selection all four years of high school, including first team the last three years, Marakath scored a county-best score of 29 points in his only regular season match this spring. He then finished alone in fifth place with a score of 80 at the county championship tournament.
Jai Sheth, Howard junior
After making second team All-County as a sophomore, Sheth continued his climb toward becoming one of the county’s best players. He averaged 25.5 points in two regular-season matches and then finished alone in second place, just one shot back of first, at the county championship tournament with a round of 75.
Dustin Stocksdale, Centennial sophomore
Stocksdale is a first-team selection for a second straight season, averaging 25 points between two regular season matches and then finishing in a tie for eighth at the county championship tournament with a round of 82.
Caleb Taylor, Glenelg senior
The 2019 Player of the Year and a four-time first team All-County selection, Taylor rounded out his high school career by finishing with the county’s second-best scoring average of 26 points in three matches. His top round was 28 points (one-under) at Cattail Creek against Hammond. He then finished in a tie for sixth at the county tournament with a round of 81.
BOYS GOLF SECOND TEAM
Robbie Graham, River Hill senior; Sangmin Lee, Marriotts Ridge sophomore; Shaylan Patel, Centennial senior; Collin Regan, River Hill junior; Evan Schneider, Wilde Lake senior; Conarie Steinbach, Centennial senior; Daniel Tuma, Marriotts Ridge junior.
GIRLS GOLF FIRST TEAM
Ally Abruscato, Glenelg senior
An All-County selection for a third straight season, Abruscato averaged 15 points per match in three regular-season rounds this spring.
Alana Alexander-Giles, Marriotts Ridge sophomore
In her second straight season making first team All-County, Alexander-Giles finished third in the county in regular-season scoring average this spring at 23 points through three matches. She finished in a tie for second at the county championship tournament with a round of 79.
Clare Bowen, Wilde Lake junior
Building on a second-team All-County season as a sophomore, Bowen averaged 13 points per match in five regular-season rounds. Her best effort was a season-high 19 points against Marriotts Ridge.
Reagan Hubbard, Centennial freshman
The top-scoring player for the Eagles this spring, Hubbard played in three matches and averaged 13.3 points per match each time out.
Megan Kirkpatrick, Glenelg freshman
Kirkpatrick was the county’s top scorer during the regular season, twice posting a county-best 26 points and averaging 25.7 points in three matches overall. She then finished in a tie for second at the county championship tournament with a round of 79.
Riyana Patel, Reservoir freshman
Patel burst onto the scene with a hole-in-one on opening day and ended up averaging 14.25 points per match in four rounds, which was the fifth-best average in the county this spring.
GIRLS GOLF SECOND TEAM
Carolina Herrera, River Hill freshman; Sussie Park, Centennial senior; Mehar Sandu, River Hill junior; Laurel Sands, Wilde Lake freshman; Lindsey Sands, Wilde Lake sophomore.