The Marquette Catholic boys’ golf team tasted some success in 2015 and it’s made them even hungrier this season.
The Explorers finished seventh with a two-day score of 656 in ‘15 at the Class 2A state tournament at Weibring Golf Club in Normal. They were two strokes off of sixth-place Althoff and 18 behind state runner-up Wheaton (St. Francis).
“It’s like a shark in the ocean circling the bloody water; they got the taste of it (in 2015),” head coach Pat Moore said. “As soon as we got on the bus last year it was like, ‘OK, what are we doing next year, guys?’ As soon as we got home, they came out to Rolling Hills at night to practice. They were already working for this year then in October. They’re poised for this October to show the state what they can do.”
Entering this week Marquette owned an 8-1 dual record and a win at the Alton Tee-Off Classic, a small-school crown at the Madison County Meet and a third-place finish at the 35-team Mattoon Invitational last weekend. Michael Holtz finished fourth individually in Mattoon with a two-day score of 146.
Everyone from last year’s squad is back, led by seniors Holtz, Nick Messinger and Duncan McLain. The remaining top six are junior Jack Patterson and sophomores Kolten Bauer and Sam Cogan. Sophomore Jack Warren also sees time on varsity.
The Explorers won the Marquette Regional at Rolling Hills Golf Course last season and then finished third at the West Frankfort Sectional to punch their ticket to state.
“I think we’re pretty close to where we want to be, but I don’t think we’re at our full potential yet,” Messinger said. “All of us are playing really good golf 1-6. It’s good to know that when one of us has a bad day that our No. 5 and No. 6 can put up a good score and pick us up.”
That balance has Moore looking for big things in 2016.
“We should do well at regionals and sectionals,” Moore said. “We don’t know what teams will be there yet, but we think we should be in the top three teams to get to state again and have that chance to bring some hardware home for the first time.”
Marquette will likely be cast in the Roxana Regional at Belk Park Golf Course and the Mattoon Sectional at Mattoon Golf and Country Club.
Regionals are scheduled for the week of Oct. 3, with sectionals the week of Oct. 10 and state at Weibring in Normal again on Oct. 14-15.
Holtz said it’s hard to imagine that his prep golf career is coming to a conclusion.
“It feels like just yesterday we were at the Hickory Stick freshmen year,” Holtz said. “It’s pretty surreal at the moment. It’s kind of weird seeing everyone because I still feel like I’m an underclassman for some reason when I look at other people.”
Holtz and Messinger hope they are leaving a lasting legacy for the program, and they know they are leaving it in good hands with the Marquette underclassmen that are there.
“If Nick and I try a new drill they are quick to pick it up,” Holtz said. “If we try some new shots they see that and say, ‘Maybe I should try that.’ We all feed off of each other. We’re all peers. If Kolten is trying something new and I feel it can benefit me, I’ll try it.”
Messinger added, “We grind real hard, all of us. We’re all good friends and on the practice field it’s something we like to do and we want to do; it’s not something we feel like we need to do. We just all want to come out here and get better.”
Moore is happy to see the growth out of his three seniors — Holtz, Messinger and McLain. He knows what they’ve meant to the program and he wants to see them go out on top.
“This is my fifth year, so I’ve had them all four years and it’s been cool to watch them grow up and see their personalities really come out from shy little freshmen,” Moore said. “I threw Michael and Nick in at No. 1 and 2 in their very first match and one of them shot 3-under.
“Back then it wasn’t a honed-in game. Now they know exactly how to play certain courses and the leadership from Duncan, Michael and Nick has been great over the years. It’s always relaxed, never stressed. It’s been a blessing to have those three kids, they’re fantastic kids and fantastic students from great families. They’re easy to coach.”
And he knows the future is bright, too. After all, Bauer, Patterson and Cogan slipped right into the varsity lineup as freshmen and have excelled.
“Kolten, that kid is going to be awesome. We’ll see what he does by his senior year,” Moore said.
The Explorers have been preparing for their moment in the spotlight for a long time and 2016 is their time to shine. The expectations are high and the confidence is even higher.
“It started making us prepare in the offseason, long term preparing instead of short term so we can get to that state trophy and work on shots that we need more at state than anywhere else,” Holtz said of the seventh-place finish at state last year.
Seventh definitely won’t cut it this year.
“Get that state trophy,” Moore said of the team goal. “They want the heaviest one up there and want to be holding it with all the medals around their necks. That’s what they’re striving for. Sure it would be nice to get second or third, but they don’t want to be the first loser or the second loser; they want the top spot. They want to be the best team Marquette has ever seen. They want all of it.
“All it takes is two days of 18 holes of golf and there’s a lot of luck out there too; just a little more needs to come our way.”