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The global pandemic that caused the cancellation of spring sports in 2020 forced West Branch to wait nearly two full years to defend its River Valley Conference title.
West Branch made sure the wait was worth it on Tuesday.
The Bears put four golfers in the top ten while winning its second consecutive RVC title and third in four attempts at Blue Top Ridge Golf Course in Riverside.
“We talk a lot about how we just want to keep building so this is the next target that we had set,” West Branch coach Randy Sexton said. “To come out and win this, with 14 teams, it’s always going be a good shootout. We’ve been watching a lot of the scores come in and we knew it was going to be competitive, so to play well in this one always means a lot.”
West Branch won the RVC title in 2017 and was runner-up in 2018 before winning the conference crown again in 2019.
The Bears appeared poised to begin a title streak at the conference meet last spring before the coronavirus wiped out the entire season.
In its first conference meet since finishing 18 strokes in front of Mid-Prairie in 2019 the Bears were nearly as dominant on Tuesday.
West High shot a 325 to finishing 11 strokes in front of runner-up Monticello.
Tipton was third with a 358 led by individual medalist Bob Ryan while Durant was fourth with a 371 and Regina was fifth with a 384.
“It means a lot,” West Branch junior Dylan Countryman said. “We have some new kids coming in who are doing a very good job, our five and six. It means a lot to win this and hopefully we can continue doing that this season.”
The individual conference champion two seasons ago as a freshman, Countryman led four Bears in the top 10 finishing runner-up with a 77.
Countryman fired an even-par 36 on the front nine and followed with a 41 on the back to finishing one stroke behind Ryan for the individual title.
“I like the course I play here quite a bit, so I know it pretty well,” Countryman said. “I’ve had some good history here. I was pretty comfortable the whole round. I thought I played well. I don’t have a lot of regrets really. I played pretty smart golf and was able to come up with a pretty good score so I was happy with it.”
Countryman shot a 75 to win the conference title in 2019 and nearly matched that score in his second conference meet.
The junior had a birdie on the par-five fourth and one bogey while shooting a 36 on the front nine.
“I had couple of birdies, nothing real, real flashy just smart golf,” Countryman said. “I was playing smart golf and hit a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of looks and just played pretty well.”
Countryman had plenty of company in the top 10.
Sophomore Will Bridges finished fifth with an 82, shooting back-to-back 41s.
“I didn’t get myself in too much trouble and I didn’t really have putts falling,” Bridges said. “Other than that, I played pretty well.”
Senior Kaleb Sexton and junior Brady Knoop joined Regina’s Mikey Takacs among a group of four golfers that shot an 83 to finish in the top 10.
Gage Gingerich shot an 85 and Logan Highly and 86 for the Bears.
“Overall, I’m just proud of the fact that the kids on a day like today, when they’re playing a longer course, with the wet conditions from yesterday, and then the wind, to kind of keep it all together,” Sexton said. “It’s kind of been our strength all year, just the depth of the team. So, to see them all play well was impressive.”
Takacs shot a 42 on the front nine and a 41 on the back to finish with an 83 and a sixth-place finish to pace Regina.
Andrew Triplett shot a 92 for the Regals.
River Valley Conference Meet
At Blue Top Ridge Golf Course in Riverside
Team scores – 1. West Branch 325; 2. Monticello 336; 3. Tipton 358; 4. Durant 371; 5. Regina 384; 6. Cascade 387; 7. Mid-Prairie 389; 8. Northeast 390; 9. North Cedar 397; 10. Wilton 401; 11. West Liberty 405; 12. Camanche 406; 13. Anamosa 414; 14. Bellevue 428
Individual leaders – 1. Bob Ryan (TIP) 36-40 – 76; 2. Dylan Countryman (WB) 36-41 – 77; 3. Ty Kehoe (MON) 39-42 – 81; 4. Dominic McCain (M-P) 39-43 – 82; 5. Will Bridges (WB) 41-41 – 82; 6. Kaleb Sexton (WB) 37-46 – 83; 6. Mikey Takacs (ICR) 42-41 – 83; 6. Gavin Manternach (CAS) 43-40 – 83; 6. Brady Knoop (WB) 45-38 – 83; 10. Justin Recker (MON) 41-43 – 84
West Branch (325) – Dylan Countryman 36-41 – 77; Will Bridges 41-41 – 82; Kaleb Sexton 37-46 – 83; Brady Knoop 45-38 – 83; Gage Gingerich 45-40 – 85; Logan Highly 43-43 – 86
Regina (384) – Mikey Takacs 42-41 – 83; Andrew Triplett 48-44 – 92; Ethan Patterson 48-50 – 98; Evan Loening 51-60 – 111; Nick Wagner 64-62 – 126; Parker Pilkington 57-80 – 137