STATE CHAMPS

BECKER- Area golfers ripped up the course on Day 2 of the 2014 Minnesota State Class A Golf Tournament Wednesday at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker, resulting in first-, second- and third-place finishes.

Dawson-Boyd recorded the school’s first-ever state championship team title, while Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Abby Herding and Murray County Central’s Adam Christensen collected individual second- and third-place medals, respectively.

“Wow,” Blackjack coach Dave Baldwin said. “I’m a little numb yet, but I’m super-proud of this great group of guys. They work hard at it and they stick together. They can handle it when things don’t go well. They bounce back well and they support the heck out of each other. It’s pretty special.”

The Blackjacks led by a single stroke after the first day of competition but crushed opponents on the final day, winning by 15 strokes (660-675) over second-place finisher United South Central of Wells.

“We really wanted to win the team title,” junior Easton Popma said. “That was our goal the whole year. That’s all we focused on. We knew this was our year. It feels really, really good.”

Popma was 10th overall in the tournament, finishing with the top round (77) for Dawson-Boyd on the final day of competition.

“I was happy overall because (Tuesday), it was all putting,” Popma said. “And that was the only thing that helped me back and (Wednesday), I didn’t play as well overall, but I switched putting grips and it worked really well.”

Sophomore Christian Thoen also picked up a sixth-place medal as an individual, shooting a two-day total of 156.

“I’m just super happy,” Thoen said. “We finally did it as a team. It was great two years ago taking third with the guys. We’ve been working hard this year and it finally paid off.”

Thoen said the front nine caused him some trouble, but he settled down and shot well in the back nine. Thoen carded a 41, followed by a 37.

“The front nine was kind of rough,” he said. “I made some stupid mistakes. I missed a three-foot put because I tried to back-hand it in with my lefty. Then on my back nine, I knew I had to focus up and I played well.”

Leading by one stroke after the first day of competition, the Blackjacks got some good advice from Coach Baldwin.

“Coach said ‘you’re gonna have to play no matter what, and whatever happens is going to happen,'” Thoen said. “You can’t do anything about it because golf is a funny game. It either goes for you or it doesn’t.”

Baldwin said he typically gives a similar speech every year to the team.

“I tell them to think about the fundamentals of the swing, don’t let a bad shot ruin your hole and don’t let a bad hole ruin your round. You have to keep your head screwed on because we all know you guys are players. But if you lose it mentally, you can let yourself and the whole team down.”

While Baldwin had confidence that the team could win the state championship, he admits that the players impressed him more than usual.

“These guys seem to have resiliancy,” he said. “They’re composed and they know what they are doing. They’re a real nice group of kids.”

Also impressed with the Blackjacks was a large group of followers, likely parents, grandparents and friends, most of whom were dressed in bright yellow T-shirt to match the players.

“I thought the fans were great,” Thoen said. “It’s always fun finishing up and seeing a bunch of yellow shirts out there.”

While Dawson-Boyd loses Jared Monson to graduation, the team returns state champions Thoen, Popma, Cameron Kemen, Dalton Palmer and Spencer Erickson.

“That’s our new dream, to get back here again next year,” Thoen said.

For MCC, just getting to the state golf tournament was rewarding. The Rebels took second last year, but lost two top golfers to graduation last season. This year’s team finished seventh overall with 702 points, but were state academic champions.

“It was an accomplishment just to get here,” MCC coach Kim DeLong said. “And I’m very happy to announce that out of the eight sections in Minnesota State Class A Golf, our MCC boys golf team earned the Section 3A Academic Team, as well as the State Champion Academic Team. Grant (Everson) and Adam were also on the All-State Golf Team.”

MCC’s Christensen fired a 39 and a 37 on Wednesday, and coupled with his first-day total, finished third overall with a 152. Mounds Park Academy of St. Paul won the individual competition with a 150, while Martin County West’s Cordell Weber was second with a 151.

“I thought my rounds could have went better, but it could have done worse, so I’m happy with it,” Christensen said. “Being in medal contention weighed on my mind a little bit at the beginning, but then I settled into my round and it was just one shot after another. My previous beest was 18th overall, so anytime you can beat your previous best, that’s good.”

MCC’s Grant Everson shot a 165 to place 19th. Along with Christensen and Everson, remaining team members Tyler Groves, Jaden Boerboom, Jack Pierson and Brad Schreiber return next season.

“I think they did better the second day because they got used to the course more,” Christensen said. “Experience is big around here. The hole locations were really tough (Wednesday). Even though they moved the tees up, the hole locations were tough. We don’t graduate anyone so our goal is to get back here next year.”

Yellow Medicine East’s Mitch McCosh completed the tournament in a three-way tie for 14th, shooting a 163.

“I felt like I hit the ball really well, but I could not get my putts to drop,” McCosh said. “It’s wasn’t horrible, but I feel like I left a lot of strokes out there. I thought the tournament was a lot of fun, though. It’s a nice course. It was a pretty good experience overall.”

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s Hunter Burns tied for 59th place with a two-day score of 184, while teammate Jeremy Alsaker finished 75th with a 191 total.

Girls Class A

Herding proved she can handle adversity as she collected runner-up honors after carding a two-day total of 168. Much like the first day, Herding struggled on an early-round hole, but she calmly collected herself and got back on track.

“Today was a little rough,” Herding said. “I got a little tired at the end. I started the day off with a four, while the other girls in my group had bogies or something, so I felt good about that.”

Unfortunately, on the No. 2 hole, Herding’s drive found a water hazard.

“Then the next shot went into the rough and the next shot went into another hazard, so I got a 10 on that hole, which wasn’t the best, but I still came back from that and shot a 44,” Herding said. “I came back and made par the next hole and I got a birdie on No. 6, which was a really good boost of confidence. Five-over on one hole is not what you want, but I’m glad I pushed through it.”

WWG Coach Carter Ross was also impressed to see Herding fight through the round, especially considering the fact that she was playing in a foursome with the top individuals.

“I thought Abby battled (Wednesday),” WWG coach Carter Ross said. “That was a lot of pressure. It was the final four of the state tournament with a state championship on the line. It’s kind of the pinnacle of pressure. I thought the foursome all battled.”

Ross noted that Herding was actually leading the tournament after the first hole on Wednesday, before she took the 10.

“She could have laid down and been out of the medal contention after the No. 2 hole, but she gutted it out and took a 44,” he said. “Instead, she battled.”

Southwest Christian of Chaska’s Christine Piwnica was the individual champion after firing a 159.

“The final group of girls were going back and forth and then finally, the girl from Southwest Christian took control. She (Piwnica) didn’t waffle on the last seven holes and deserves to win. But the experience Abby gained in that group will pay dividends down the road.”

Herding agreed, noting that the foursome was competitive, but encouraging toward each other.

“I had two great group of girls that I played golf with each day, which was a lot of fun,” Herding said. “I played with Christina Piwnica, who was the winner. She had two great days of golf. It was really fun playing with good competition.”

As a sophomore, Herding still has two more years to polish up her golf game and work toward a state championship. It’s something she said she is looking forward to.

Other area girls were also competing on the links. Minneota/Lincoln HI’s Allison Bot carded a 186 and finished in a tie for 27th place.

“I was hitting really well, but I didn’t score as well I would have liked to,” Bot said. “I had a lot of fun. It’s different coming up as an individual rather than as a team, though, because then you don’t have everyone here. There’s a little more pressure.”

This year marks the first that Minneota and Lincoln HI have joined together for the golf season. Previously, the two teams battled back and forth in sections to earn the one qualifying spot to state. The pairing can only mean good things in the future as all team members return next season.

“I always want to do better,” Bot said. “But I only hit four bad shots all day. I was counting, actually.”

Viking teammate Kyra Gores shot a 196, finishing in a tie for 43rd place, while Heidi Guttormsson tied for 51st with a 200.

“The first year of pairing was very successful,” Minneota/Lincoln HI coach Ralph Hagen said. “We have seen the addition of players from Lincoln HI in other sports lifting the teams to a level where they can think about playing for championships. We have experienced the same thing in golf.”

Viking coach Greg Gile agreed.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “They are wonderful people.”

Lakeview’s Whitney Fischer dropped 10 strokes off her game on the second day of competition and finished in a tie for 55th place, recording a 202.

“I thought the state tournament was really good,” Fischer said. “I had a lot of fun. I took off 10 strokes (Wednesday) so that was good. I just hit the ball better than (Tuesday). I also had more confidence (Wednesday). I was really nervous (Tuesday).”

Fischer appreciates that she was paired up with a fellow Section 3A competitor for the first day of competition.

“I really like the Minneota/Lincoln HI girls, so it was nice to be in a group with them,” she said. “I got along with all of them. We all came from the same section. And I’m hoping to come back here again next year.”

YME’s Leah Jeseritz was 80th with a 232.