Your Prep Sports
SOLON – The last high school golf season ended with West Branch as a state runner-up.
After a year away from the course and following the graduation of a number of key contributors from its 2019 2A runner-up team West Branch was anxious to prove it was still at that state championship level this season.
It is safe to say the Bears did that and then some on Friday.
West Branch put four players in the top 10 on its way to winning the team title at the Solon Invitational on an overcast afternoon at Lake Macbride Golf Course in Solon.
“There were a lot of people I think doubting if we were where we were two years ago,” West Branch junior Brady Knoop said. “I think after today we will prove to people that we are still here.”
Knoop led a trio of Bears that shot in the 70s on Friday, firing an even-par 72 to earn medalist honors at the eight-team meet.
Sophomore Will Bridges was fifth with a 78 and junior Dylan Countryman seventh with a 79 as West Branch shot a 309, edging host Solon by one stroke for the team title.
“Last time we played at this tournament, two years ago, we shot 309,” West Branch coach Randy Sexton said. “To know that we are on the same level as that team was, this early in the year is a great feather in their cap.”
Knoop, Countryman and senior captain Kaleb Sexton, who was 10th with an 82 on Friday, return from the West Branch team that finished four strokes behind Des Moines Christian at the 2019 state meet that was shortened to one day by rain.
Despite half of its varsity lineup new to the varsity scene after last season was cancelled due to the coronavirus Friday’s first 18-hole meet of the season made it clear the Bears don’t intend to skip a beat in 2021.
“We are coming out this year with the mentality that we want state again,” Kaleb Sexton said. “That’s our main goal that we are going to state this year because we missed it two years ago, we didn’t get a season last year so this is our year.”
West Branch used a strong finish on Friday to sneak past upstart Solon in its first major test of the season.
Five Bears improved their scores on the final nine holes on Friday including Knoop who fired a one-under-par 35 on the back nine.
“I was just striking the ball well,” Knoop said. “I started to hit the putter a lot better. I couldn’t make a putt on the front nine but it turned around the back.”
Knoop had two of his three birdies on the back nine, including a birdie on the par-three third that pulled him to even on the day.
He finished with three birdies and three bogeys to go with 12 pars.
“The way all of us putted today was a lot better than our first two meets,” Knoop said. “Ted (Bridges) always talked about how he played boring golf. That’s what I try to do.”
Countryman followed up a 40 on the front nine with a 39 on the back while Sexton shot a 40 on the final nine holes after opening with a 42.
Bridges opened with a 36 and finished with a 42 on his way to a 78 in his first ever 18-hole meet.
“We want our kids that are playing at the top of the lineup to feel like if they stub their toe on a round they have someone that is going to pick them up,” Randy Sexton said. “Everybody on the team could have scored for us today and that’s awesome for us to have that kind of depth.
West Branch needed every stroke of improvement to hold off Solon.
The Spartans had three players card scores in the 70s on Friday led by senior Stetson McIlravy who finished runner-up with a 75.
“I’m extremely happy,” Solon coach Adam Stahle said. “It’s a little frustrating from the standpoint that you want to win every meet but with over half of our team not playing in a varsity meet until yesterday for them to start off the season and start to execute like we have I am extremely thrilled.”
McIlravy closed with a meet-low nine-hole score of 34 on the back nine to finish one stroke ahead of sophomore teammate Mac McCarty who was third with a 75.
McIlravy had an eagle on the par-five seventh and a birdie on the par-four fifth during his closing 34 after recording three bogeys and a double bogey while opening with a 41.
“I played pretty poorly yesterday, I had a tough day and then I actually had a couple of videos and I looked over some stuff yesterday with my older brother,” McIlravy said. “The front nine I started to figure it out but just missed a couple of things and was executing poorly and then the back nine everything felt really good and I made a couple of puts from 30 plus feet and everything was starting to click.”
Freshman Jack McCarty shot a 79 that included a 38 on the back nine to place sixth and senior Lucas TePoel shot a 39 on the back and finished with an 82. Junior Frank Haege Jr. shot an 81 for the Spartans.
“I think the kids were happy with it today and this is a great lesson for us,” Stahle said. “West Branch is a heck of team and for us to be right there with them, one shot is a learning lesson for them, but its awesome.”
At Lake McBride Golf Course
Team scores – 1. West Branch 309; 2. Solon 310; 3. Tipton 343; 4. Durant 378; 5. Benton Community 380; 6. West Liberty 385; 7. Wilton 395; 8. Regina 403
Individual Leaders – 1. Brady Knoop (WB) 37-35 – 72; 2. Stetson McIlravy (SOL) 41-34 – 75; 3. Mac McCarty (SOL) 36-40 – 76; 4. Tristin Sorgenfrey (TIP) 36-40 – 76; 5. Will Bridges (WB) 36-42 – 78; 6. Jack McCarty (SOL) 41-38 – 79; 7. Dylan Countryman (WB) 40-39 – 79; 8. Bob Ryan (TIP) 41-39 – 80; 9. Frank Haege Jr. (SOL) 41-40 – 81; 10. Kaleb Sexton (WB) 42-40 – 82
Solon (310) – Stetson McIlravy 41-34 – 75; Mac McCarty 36-40 – 76; Jack McCarty 41-38 – 79; Frank Haege Jr. 41-40 – 81; Lucas TePoel 43-39 – 82; Nate Miller 46-48 – 94
Regina (403) – Mikey Takacs 44-43 – 87; Andrew Triplett 42-48 – 90; Evan Loening 47-54 – 101; Nick Wagner 66-59 – 125; Ethan Patterson 79-59 – 138; Jackson Kelly 82-64 – 146
West Branch (309) – Brady Knoop 37-35 – 72; Will Bridges 36-42 – 78; Dylan Countryman 40-39 – 79; Kaleb Sexton 42-40 – 82; Gage Gingerich 43-40 – 83; Logan Highly 44-40 – 84