Reload and repeat

Bobcat boys golf tries to recapture magic of championship season

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - The Marshalltown golf team begins its state title defense on Thursday. Pictured are four returning members from last season’s state championship team, from left, Mason Reid, JD Pollard, Cole Davis and Lucas Schneider.

For nearly 10 months, the Marshalltown golf team has been the top dogs of the Class 4A golf world.

For the first time in a decade and a half, the Bobcats ended last season as the 4A champs, with then-senior Nate Vance winning the first individual state title for MHS in 18 years with a dramatic eagle on the 18th hole in a playoff at Elmwood Country Club.

When the Bobcats got back to practice on Monday for the first time since walking off at Elmwood with trophies in hand, there were some familiar faces and some glaring absences.

Gone are the senior group of Vance, Luke Appel, Tate Carlson and Keygan Hansen, but what remains is a solid core of players who still have that state victor fresh on their minds.

“Coming off of last season we have a lot of confidence from our guys in the sense that they’ve been on the stage now and know what it feels like,” Bobcat head golf coach Lucas Johnson said. “You saw that in the guys that were playing in the [Times-Republican City Golf Tournament], knowing that being in a situation where there are a lot of people watching, it’s something that they are used to. They gain more confidence the more they are in that spot.”

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Arguably the strongest golfer returning to the links for Marshalltown this fall will be junior Cole Davis, a runner-up individually at state last year and recently crowned the youngest ever winner of the City Open.

Senior JD Pollard and junior Mason Reid both can lead the way as well, with Reid coming off a third-place finish in the City Open last weekend and Pollard coming back as one of the most consistent players from last year’s state championship run.

Johnson said what makes those three particularly great is their commitment to not just excel at the high school level, but to continue their golf careers once high school is over.

“We are really fortunate in the sense that we have a lineup with players who want to go on through college,” Johnson said. “They know the high school golf season is a part of that, but there’s a lot more that goes into that and they understand what that takes. Our guys are playing in high-level, high-quality tournaments throughout the summer and that only makes them better.”

Three golfers don’t make a complete team, however, and that’s where Johnson said the team has some ground to make up.

“We are obviously going to miss guys like Nate Vance, Luke Appel, Tate Carlson, Keygan Hansen, that’s the thing that we had last year that will take us a little more time to develop, that depth,” he said. “This season we are definitely going to rely a lot more on underclassmen to step into a varsity role.”

First up to fill the remaining spots will be junior Lucas Schneider, a consistent presence on the junior varsity squad last season that Johnson said was almost as important as the varsity members.

“Last year Lucas Schneider was a kid that we talked about a lot throughout the season, any other team in Iowa he would have been a varsity player,” Johnson said. “He understood his role and the fact that he had a lot of great players ahead of him, but his role was to push those players and he succeeded in that role. I don’t think we are as successful last year if we didn’t have those guys in the 7-8-9 spots that were battling for that time. This is his time now and I know he is excited for that opportunity to compete at the varsity level.”

After Schneider will be some players untested on the varsity stage, but with some high ceilings. One in particular is incoming freshman Grant Greazel, who turned heads last weekend by finishing as the runner-up in the City Open at 14-years old.

“He’s been a kid who’s lived at Elmwood virtually throughout the summer, and that’s what it takes to become a better player,” Johnson said. “He’s one that I think we will rely on to fill some of those gaps.”

Behind Greazel are quite a few people that Johnson said will be fighting for those final varsity spots throughout the year.

“We have Colin Schmit as a freshman who has shot some good scores, he will compete and contend for a spot,” Johnson said. “Brent Johnson is a senior and Owen Chaloupek is a junior and both are going to compete for a spot, they were kind of on that junior varsity line last year. As a coach you just want to create an environment where kids are competing for their spot. We know that that competition makes us better as a group.”

The final spots will have to be solid, considering what many of the other teams that were pushing for the top spot return this year. Waukee and Cedar Falls, the only two teams last season to defeat Marshalltown, both return every member of last season’s squads.

“Our top of the lineup can play with anybody on a given day. We are excited, but we know there are a lot of good teams coming back,” Johnson said. “When you look at the other schools in the state, teams like Waukee — who we start out with on Thursday — they are bringing virtually everybody back and they are a team that beat us last year.”

Even with a good core of players to build around, Johnson said this will be a trying year, one that his guys will have to grind through for success.

“Last year we were in a position where we were virtually wire-to-wire No. 1, from the first day of the season to the end of the season,” he said. “I’m not sure we have necessarily the depth to sustain that but I know we have the talent to get there if our guys mentally can get themselves where they need to be.”

Coming into a season as defending champions is a challenge in its own right. You are now the hunted, and everyone wants what you have, though Johnson said his guys aren’t even thinking about that this early in the year.

“Pressure isn’t a word I would use as much as striving to get better,” he said of the team’s mentality. “I think that’s the main goal, our guys, I’m really going to push them this year to not settle for the status quo. There is still a lot of good golf and improvement to be had, especially with the goals that our guys have on the team. They know they can’t take a break because there’s a ton of good players out there that are working hard every day.”

What Johnson said will really help his guys keep their heads down and working is values that have been instilled in them by being involved in a community that cares so much about golf.

“Marshalltown as a program has had a lot of success over the years and I think it’s part of the community culture. You saw it out at the City Tournament, the number of people that are excited to encourage youth golf,” Johnson said. “I’ve said to many people that I don’t think there are many communities in Iowa that can say they do as much for junior golf as Marshalltown does. Not only Elmwood and the [American Legion Memorial Golf Course] and [Wandering Creek Golf Course], but just the people out there are tremendously welcoming and encouraging to our players. There are a lot of places you go where people don’t want to see kids on the golf course and I am really proud of the fact that we live in a community where people not only want to see them on the course but want to see them succeed and do well and come out and support them.”

Marshalltown will start championship defense on Thursday when it hosts Waukee for a dual at the American Legion Memorial Golf Course, starting at 3:30 p.m.