This season has been one long, trying challenge for the Hiland Hawks, Garaway Pirates and Strasburg Tigers golf teams. The three Inter-Valley Conference schools have banged heads in the IVC preseason and postseason tournaments and during the regular season, then again in sectionals. Each time the Hawks have come away the victor, although it has been incredibly close at each step.
However, on Monday, Oct. 1 at River Green Golf Course, the three teams met for one final time, and this time Hiland simply went out and seized a title that secured a spot at state.
Hiland’s blistering 306 planted it firmly in first, well ahead of runner-up Garaway’s 326 and Strasburg’s 329. Barnesville was fourth at 339 while Fort Frye was a distant fifth at 394.
“It has been cut-throat between us three teams, and we are all really good teams that are deserving to go to state,” Hiland head coach Austin Kaufman said. “It’s nice to finally get over that hump, and it is unfortunate that these two teams aren’t coming with us. They should be there.”
For a team that has been on the cusp of a state berth only to see the Tigers grab it the past two years, it was the final chapter in this local showdown that everyone knew was coming because it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Div. III state qualifier would come from this trio of IVC teams.
“That was a huge effort under big pressure,” coach Kaufman said. “We made some mistakes out there, but we were able to recover, and I was proud of them for that. That is one of our best efforts this season.”
Hiland’s dynamic junior duo of Bruce Yoder and Dylan Kaufman has been through this grind three times now, and they played like seasoned veterans. Yoder shot a one-over-par 73 as the one-man while Dylan Kaufman lit it up with an even-par 72 as the two-man.
“Having those two guys playing right around even-par was big because it took the pressure off of the rest of our guys,” coach Kaufman said.
Both of the juniors had been waiting for this moment ever since the Hawks were eliminated by Strasburg in last year’s district tournament.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the practice range, and it paid off today,” Yoder said. “This feels so great. I feel like there is actually less pressure on us because nobody expects us to win, but we all feel that we can be right there if we play our game.”
“It all came together today, and I used the pressure to my advantage,” Dylan Kaufman said. “I think the more it matters the better I play, and I think I will play well from here on out.”
As for this moment, Dylan Kaufman said all three teams realized what was at stake, and they all knew it would boil down to which team would step up.
A trio of youngsters also did their part with four-man Brookston Hummel carding a 79, Carter Mishler adding an 82 and Kenny Weaver shooting an 87. That was more than enough for a Hiland team that simply went out and took what it was looking for all season long.
“This feels great, especially with this being my freshman year,” Hummel said. “Having Bruce and Dylan to lead us has been huge, and their experience and their demeanor have helped us a lot. I think with them being through these kinds of pressure moments helps us feel less pressure.”
Mishler said all of the summer work, all of the attention to little details and the commitment to working on every aspect of the game both mental and physical had finally paid off.
“We have practiced for this moment all season long, and we all expected to play our game today, so we weren’t totally surprised to shoot this well,” Mishler said. “We were all just really ready to play today and to take the next step.”
Weaver is in his first year of ever playing golf, and he has quickly taken to the game. Coach Kaufman said he has had a number of times where he has rescued the team this season, and he has been impressed with Weaver’s patience and willingness to learn.
“I feel I am really fortunate to be where I am, playing the five-man,” Weaver said. “I would not have seen myself in that position before the year. I was just hoping to make the team, and I am excited to help the team any way I can. I think being around these guys has helped me so much.”
Garaway got a string of consistent play with Ethan Miller leading the way at 80, Zehnder Gibson carding an 81, Mikey Blauch scoring an 82 and Rendall Weaver carding an 83, that while dumping two balls into the drink on 18. Even senior Zach Immel, who shot a 91, brought cheers on 18 when his approach shot banged off the pin and he sank his putt.
“I am glad Hiland played well and won rather than see someone kind of stumble into it,” Garaway head coach Brad Nyholm said. “I think all three teams felt they could come down here and win. I think we were kind of the third team, and I think the kids felt they could use that to go out and prove themselves by doing something special. We played well. We did some good things, but we just came up short. We went out and competed, but Hiland just posted a really low number.”
Nyholm was an assistant coach for a number of the Garaway teams who went to state, and he said the pressure of this district tournament with three superior teams fighting for one spot is in a way more pressurized than playing at state.
“I think once you get down to state, you can relax and go play your game,” Nyholm said. “Here you know every single shot matters and you don’t want to be that guy who cost your team a shot at winning, so it is a different type of pressure.”
The Tigers had been nipping at Hiland’s heels at every stop this season but struggled to keep pace with the red-hot Hawks in this contest.
All-Ohioan Mitch Neidenthal fired off a 76, which made him the medalist outside of Hiland, which means he secured the individual spot for state. Mike Neidenthal shot an 82, Calvin Willis fired an 84, Kyler Shetler shot an 87 and Ethan Cregan ended up at 88.
While Mitch Neidenthal earned medalist honors and lived to fight again, his adventure was far from easy as Barnesville’s Payne Johnson ended up at 77, just one shot back.
With the chase between these three teams now over, Mitch Neidenthal said it has been an immense joy to play with these teams that share a home course in Willandale Golf Course.
“I’ve made so many great friends through this experience, and it is sad that it is over,” Mitch Neidenthal said. “There is just so much respect here between all of us. This has been a friendly competition with each other. We want the best for each other, but we still want to beat each other.”
This fall that honor went to Hiland, although all three teams realized each of them could have gone to state.
“It’s too bad only one team can go to state,” Troy McClellan said. “I think any of these three teams would go there and finish in the top tier. Hiland kind of proved they belonged all year. They won the preseason, the postseason and the regular season, all by a little bit, and we knew we had a chance, and we had to play our best. We didn’t, and they did, and kudos to them for going out and earning it.”