Lakota East High School’s boys golf team is filled with talent, but veteran coach Jeff Combs sees something more.
The Thunderhawks turned in a next-level performance Thursday at the Division I district tournament, finishing second at Glenview Golf Course to earn their second straight state berth.
“They’re really good golfers, but no, that’s not what makes them a really good team,” Combs said. “It’s taken me a while to learn this as a coach. It’s the most close-knit team I’ve had in 20 years of coaching.
“They hang out together. They play poker together. We go to breakfasts together, dinners together. They’re competing against each other, but they’re rooting each other on. That’s the difference.”
East totaled 301 strokes and trailed only two-time defending state champion St. Xavier (292) on the par-72 course. Mason (308) also grabbed a team spot at the state tournament, which is set for the Ohio State University Scarlet Course in Columbus on Oct. 20-21.
Junior Kyle Schmidt paced the Thunderhawks at district with a third-place individual finish. He carded a 37-34—71 on an overcast, damp day at the Glenview links.
“It was definitely a roller coaster,” Schmidt said. “It was definitely fun, but also very nerve-wracking. We all grinded through it. It was a team effort today, and we got rewarded for it.”
When he found out East was returning to state, his reaction was, “Undescribable. It was just pure excitement. We win as a team, and it’s going to be awesome.”
Seniors Drew Mahon (37-39—76) and Alex Dunaway (40-38—78) also scored for the Thunderhawks, as did sophomore Brock Aten (38-38—76).
There are 27 holes at Glenview — the East Course served as the front nine, while the South Course was the back nine. The back tees were used, meaning the event played more than 500 yards longer than the Greater Miami Conference tournament that was held at Glenview last month.
“It was difficult because it’s a lot longer from the black tees and it was soaking wet out, so the ball was not rolling,” Schmidt said. “It wasn’t going as far because it’s a little bit chilly out. But I just tried to make as many birdies as I could, and I got on a good run after nine holes and went from there. My ball striking was amazing, the best it’s ever been.”
The Southwest District is arguably the strongest in Ohio, at least in recent years. The last three D-I state champions — Moeller won it in 2014 — have come from this area.
East finished seventh in the state in 2008 and last year. The 2016 tourney was shortened to 18 holes by inclement weather.
“We’re very excited. It’s so hard to get to Columbus,” Combs said. “Getting back to state was one of the expectations of our year. We’ve played with the best teams in the state all year long. If we play our best, we can hang with them.”
The Thunderhawks have been GMC champions the last four years. Mason has been the runner-up each season.
The last time two GMC schools advanced to Columbus in the same year was 1994. Fairfield and Lakota were the state qualifiers.
“This is a great day for the GMC,” Combs said. “We were rooting hard for Mason. Our guys love all their guys, and we like their coach (Tim Lambert) a lot. They’re as good as we are. Anytime we beat them, we’re really excited.”
Thursday wasn’t such a great day for GMC participants Fairfield and Hamilton, which placed 12th and 14th, respectively, in the team standings.
“The course played tough,” Fairfield coach Nick Gray said. “Obviously it was a little bit different than what we experienced at GMCs, but after playing practice rounds out here on Monday and Tuesday, I kind of felt confident where we were. We just struggled. We didn’t come out and execute.”
Sophomore Mason Hamilton paced the Indians with a 39-44—83. Gray said seniors Matthew Louis and Luke McFarland will be missed, but he believes the program’s future is bright.
“I’m hoping to get it back to where it was,” Gray said. “I’m excited with making the district tournament for the first time in three years. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
HHS — a district qualifier the last three seasons — was led by its only seniors, Trace Thomas (44-40—84) and Eric Roberts (43-43—86).
“They’ve been varsity players for four years, and it’s been an honor to coach them because they’re great kids who have done nothing but great things for the Hamilton community in general,” Big Blue coach Justin Beck said. “They’re irreplaceable kids, to be honest. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do.”
Of his team’s overall performance at district, Beck said, “We’re disappointed with our score, but we knew it was going to take a special day for us to get out, and we didn’t have the day to do it. I thought the course was in great condition considering the amount of rain we had. The greens rolled great. We just didn’t play as well as the other teams.”
Lebanon placed ninth as a team and got 82s from juniors Christian Bugher (40-42) and A.J. Steketee (42-40). Talawanda senior Vincent Whitehead (39-39—78) and Monroe sophomore Alex Gomia (42-37—79) failed to advance to state as individuals.
Top Three Advance To State
1. St. Xavier 292; 2. Lakota East 301; 3. Mason 308; 4. (tie) Centerville, Elder 311; 6. Springboro 319; 7. Moeller 320; 8. Loveland 320; 9. Lebanon 338; 10. Beavercreek 341; 11. Fairmont 342; 12. Fairfield 344; 13. Troy 349; 14. Hamilton 357; 15. Bellefontaine 371; 16. Tippecanoe 381
Top Five Individuals
1. Austin Greaser (Vandalia Butler) 33-37—70, 2. Oscar Zimmerman (St. Xavier) 33-37—70, 3. Kyle Schmidt (Lakota East) 37-34—71; 4. (tied) Tyler Goecke (Carroll) 37-35—72; Michael Prebles (St. Xavier) 36-36—72
Note: Greaser parred two playoff holes to defeat Zimmerman for first place
Individual State Qualifiers
Austin Greaser (Vandalia Butler) 33-37—70, Tyler Goecke (Carroll) 37-35—72, Lucas Wells (Springfield) 37-36—73
Note: Wells birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Centerville’s A.J. Cherubini (38-35—73) for the final state berth
Local Team Results
Lakota East: Kyle Schmidt 37-34—71, Brock Aten 38-38—76, Drew Mahon 37-39—76, Alex Dunaway 40-38—78, Peyton Houston 41-44—85
Lebanon: Christian Bugher 40-42—82, A.J. Steketee 42-40—82, Joey Dennis 45-40—85, Arthur Sweetman 43-46—89, Bryce Lambert 45-49—94
Fairfield: Mason Hamilton 39-44—83, Logan Murphy 42-42—84, Matthew Lewis 40-45—85, Chandler Kellum 45-47—92, Luke McFarland 48-44—92
Hamilton: Trace Thomas 44-40—84, Eric Roberts 43-43—86, Braden Hubbard 45-47—92, Gabe Stephens 47-48—95, Daniel DeJesus 47-52—99
Monroe: Alex Gomia, 42-37—79
Talawanda: Vincent Whitehead, 39-39—78