Halfway through this high school golf season, nobody would have entertained thoughts of the West Holmes Knights earning a sectional crown, considering those are a major rarity at WHHS.
However, several weeks ago head coach Isaac Haver sat down with his team and talked about what they wanted to achieve, what they had to do in order to get there, what they had to change in their practice habits and how hard they needed to work to make it happen.
Since that time his Knights have gotten better and better, and after placing third in a rugged Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament a week prior to sectionals and then taking runner-up at the State Farm Invitational a day later, the Knights stormed into sectionals at Cambridge Country Club on Monday, Oct. 1 and claimed the Div. I sectional crown with a 346, one shot better than Tri-Valley and three shots ahead of Dover.
All three teams qualified for district play, but the joy of winning a sectional title was evident following the sectional victory, the first-ever sectional title for a West Holmes golf team.
“The smiles on the kids’ faces said it all,” Haver said. “They were so excited, and they deserved to be excited. It was absolutely amazing, and I kept telling them that we needed to calm down and act like we’ve been here before, but they were super-pumped, and there was no way I was going to stop them from celebrating.”
On a short but tight country club course, Haver said they talked at length about utilizing course management if they wanted to have a chance at fulfilling the dream. Haver drove home the point of staying in the fairway off the tee and limiting their short game around the greens, where the rough was extremely high.
“Coming in, we all knew course management was going to be the key,” Haver said. “These kids have been so coachable, and that came up big today.”
His Knights took it to heart, especially Carter Hahn, who has been as good as gold in 18-hole tournaments this season. Hahn stayed consistent all day and fired a 78, good for medalist honors by two strokes. Evan Yoder also has been very consistent this year and came in with an 84. The third Knights senior, Brett Mirich, carded a 94 while Gavin Christine struggled to a 102. Freshman Hunter Ellis came through from the fifth-man spot, where he shot a 90, a monstrous score for the Knights.
“Carter has been so consistent for us all year long,” Haver said. “Seeing him play that well in this situation wasn’t at all surprising because he has done that all year. Evan also played really well, but having Hunter playing in the five-hole for us is really huge because he can step up and deliver a score like that in a pressure situation, and that takes a lot of pressure off of our kids to feel like they have to be perfect all the time.”
Haver said his Knights came into the day truly believing one of the three district spots could be theirs if they played up to their capabilities. Throughout the day that became apparent as they put themselves in great position with solid, steady play.
Hahn said he was far more excited about getting to move on with his team rather than as an individual, and he credited the Knights’ coaching staff of Haver and assistant Pat Miller for helping them find a groove and gain in confidence at just the right time.
“We just wanted to make it out as a team, and the goal was going down and playing our game and smart, conservative golf,” Hahn said. “Our coaches have talked all year about course management, and they have drilled it into us that we can do some pretty great things if we play smart. We did what we needed to do, and winning it was a huge bonus. Being the first team in school history to accomplish that is something special, and seeing our number going on the banner in the gym is something that will be there forever.”
Haver said that was due to this team maturing throughout the season. He said earlier this year they would not have responded to the pressure the way they did in this case.
“It’s been a fun transition from the beginning of the year until now, and the kids are starting to believe in themselves,” Haver said. “The thing I like the most about this team is their ability to realize that in 18-hole tournaments there is a lot of time to recover from a rough start. There was no panic in them, and they stayed calm throughout the day.”
In the end that demeanor gave them a chance to cut loose with joy in celebrating a very elusive sectional crown.
Aside from the three advancing teams, three individuals not on a qualifying team also advanced to the district tournament at EagleSticks Golf Course on Tuesday, Oct. 9. For Dover, senior Micah Smith led the way with an 80, junior Gabe Miller added an 81, sophomore Reese Klar carded an 86 and junior Cameron Spraggins shot a 102. New Philadelphia senior Dakota Wright and junior Andrew Wherley both advanced as individuals by firing twin 86s. The Quakers were fourth as a team at 364.
Hahn said they will tackle districts the same way and let the chips fall where they may.
“We will try to go down and be loose and relaxed because we don’t have anything to lose at this point,” Hahn said. “Nobody expected us to be here, so we will go play our game again.”