All season long the high school golf season was angling toward this one district final showdown between three friendly rivals who all call Willandale Golf Course their home.
The golf season started out with Garaway winning the Inter-Valley Conference preseason tournament. Strasburg won the regular season portion without a loss, and then the Tigers took the postseason tournament to win the league. Hiland always seemed to play second fiddle to the Tigers with the Pirates nipping at their heels.
In sectionals Strasburg won the crown, followed by Hiland and Garaway, but all three advanced easily to districts, where it would be a winner-take-all scenario. That day finally came on Monday, Oct. 2 at River Greens Golf Course, and the favored Tigers would stake their claim to a return trip to state by scorching River Greens with a 307.
While it was expected to be close, it wasn’t. Hiland and Garaway could never really get going, Hiland posting a runner-up score of 332 while Garaway shot a 338 to place third.
Strasburg got a pair of 76s from eventual medalist Calvin Willis and Mike Neidenthal while Dylan Tucker and Mitch Neidenthal added 77 and 78, respectively. The Tigers simply pulled away and made what was expected to be a tight battle a runaway title. Ethan Creagan also added a 91 for Strasburg.
“We came in wanting to shoot 310 and figured if someone shot lower than that, then they were the team that would go,” Strasburg coach Troy McClellan said. “But everyone came out and did their part, and that team that went sub-310 was us. Anytime you get four scores in the 70s, you’ve got to be happy.”
While it was supposed to be a battle, Strasburg was always considered the odds-on favorite because of its top-end depth. That said, McClellan said being the favorite isn’t always a walk in the park.
“Playing from in front can be tough with all of the expectations,” said McClellan, who has now taken a Tigers team to state in both golf and boys basketball. “We talked about that from day one, and we talked a lot this year dealing with that pressure, and I am proud of these kids for the way they handled themselves through it all.”
Hiland took home the runner-up trophy and medals, but it was not a satisfactory day for a team that felt it left a lot of shots on the course throughout the day.
“We didn’t match that number all year,” Hiland coach Austin Kaufman said. “They are tough to beat, and we never really put a tournament together this year where all of us were at the top of our game.”
Kaufman said the Hawks never put forth a number they were shooting for. They simply felt that if they played well and produced the way they could across the board, they would have had a shot. That didn’t happen as each team member struggled from time to time.
“We just wanted to play well and give ourselves a chance,” Kaufman said. “It didn’t happen, but hats off to these kids. They worked incredibly hard this summer and put a lot of effort into it.”
Hiland was paced by a pair of players who had high hopes of grabbing the individual qualifying spot should the Hawks not win. That didn’t happen for sophomore Dylan Kaufman and Bruce Yoder, who shot 80 and 81, respectively. Both had crafted one-over-par 73s at sectionals, meaning both had the ability to produce great numbers.
However, Kaufman struggled out of the gate, ending his front side with a 43. He recovered nicely on the back with a 37, but the damage was done. Yoder slammed his way through the front side at a one-over-par 37 and appeared to be in great shape, but a triple bogey on No. 10 was followed by a double-bogey on the next hole, and that submarined his round.
Johnny Mullet shot an 83, Tremper Coblentz ended with an 88 and Claye Hummel came in with a 90.
“Pressure creeps into these situations, and you have to learn how to deal with it,” coach Kaufman said. “We hit some shots today I haven’t seen us hit all year.”
Like the Hawks, the Pirates struggled to play consistently, and the scores fleshed that out. Garaway has consistently been around or under 320 all season, but at districts they never seemed to settle in.
“This is part of the game,” Garaway coach Brad Nyholm said. “We have to learn how to be successful before they can actually achieve what they want to achieve. We have to learn a little bit before we can take the bull by the horns.”
Last year at districts in Div. II, Garaway forged a 315 at River Greens to advance to state. They felt that if they could reach that level again, they would take their chances, but even that would not have been enough to stop the red-hot Tigers.
“We felt if we could post that number and we got beat, we wouldn’t feel bad about it,” Nyholm said. “We didn’t get near that number, and we struggled today, but with Strasburg shooting a 307, that is going to be tough for anyone to beat. They did a great job, and they simply went out and won it.”
Brevin Weaver came through with a 78, which while not his best score, was still good enough to advance him on to the state tournament as the individual qualifier from districts. Ethan Miller was next in line with an 83, followed by Zehnder Gibson’s 86, Micah Hallman’s 90 and Rendall Weaver’s 92.
It was a tough day for the young Pirates with none of them shooting the scores they were hoping to put forth.
While the three teams are huge rivals on the course, there also is a great deal of admiration, respect and friendship that has developed over the course of the past few seasons. While all wanted to win, all will be rooting for the Tigers at state.
“Strasburg is a great team, and we’d love to see them represent our conference and Willandale and go down there and win it all,” Kaufman said. “And Brevin is a great kid, and we are thrilled for him. We know if it was the other way around, Strasburg would be rooting for us or Garaway.”
McClellan said the play of Willis late in the year has propelled the Tigers to even greater scores than they had posted much of the season. Willis earned medalist honors at both sectionals and districts. Mitch Neidenthal has been so good this year that McClellan said shooting a 78 is a struggling score for the junior, who took home IVC Player of the Year honors.
“I know Mitch wasn’t thrilled with his score today, but we will take 78s from him and any of these guys all day long when we get to state,” McClellan said.
Strasburg will try to tame the Scarlet Course at the Ohio State University on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13-14 in Columbus.
Last year Strasburg’s two-day score of 668 was good for third place, 20 shots behind champion Cincinnati Seven Hills and 10 behind runner-up Van Buren. Strasburg’s second-day total of 329, tied for the day’s best, sent them soaring past four schools and into third place. In that tournament Tucker shot 85-85, Mitch Neidenthal fired an 84-80 and Mike Neidenthal carded scores of 85-79. In Div. II, Weaver carded scores of 89-82.