Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Not one but two spring snowstorms over the past two weeks have been the source of plenty of frustration for high school golf teams.
Despite the winter-like weather it’s been almost all smiles at West Branch.
Considering how far the Bears have come in the last year it is going to take more than some snow to dampen the mood around the West Branch program.
West Branch brings back all six of its top players, including a pair of district qualifiers from its River Valley Conference title win team from a year ago but that success is only part of the excitement surrounding the program.
West Branch once again has a home course with the opening of Cedars Edge Golf Course along with a new indoor multipurpose building to take the sting out of the nasty spring weather.
“Last year at this team we were a team without a home golf course, we were in transition with the course here, we were practicing twice a week at a course 30 minutes away and mostly we just hit irons outside the school,” West Branch coach Randy Sexton said. “For the kids to make the strides they did last year with what we dealt with was a huge accomplishment.”
Last year at this time West Branch was a team without a home.
With the future of the course in West Branch in flux the Bears travelled 20 miles each way once or twice a week to play at Cedar Valley Golf Course near Tipton.
Mostly the Bears practiced without a course, outside the high school on a patch of grass west of the school the team dubbed “Greenview National”.
The circumstances gave West Branch every excuse for a less than memorable season.
Instead the Bears got better as the season went on culminating with a two-stroke win over Wilton at the RVC meet.
“I think it shows more about the guys we have on our team and their willingness to get better and to overcome the situation we were in,” West Branch senior Trevor Thein said. “We were limited with what we could do but we made the best of everything and you couldn’t believe the excitement we all had once we found out we had a course to practice on finally, that was an awesome feeling. Once we got out there we really got to work.”
The Bears enter this season now with a full year with access to a home course.
Perhaps equally important has been the completion of the multiuse facility.
The new space has hitting bays that allow for indoor practices with real golf balls rather than the previous exercise of hitting whiffle balls in the gym during inclement weather.
“I think it is a big advantage,” Bridges said. “Last year at this time we didn’t have a golf course to play on which is kind of weird for a golf team to experience and then with the new building, with the bad weather recently we’ve had to focus on our short game indoors and I think that will give us an edge when it comes to playing on a real course.”
What West Branch hopes is its real advantage is a roster loaded with talent and experience.
Thein and Bridges return as the top two players on the West Branch roster after advancing to the 2A District meet a year ago.
The two give West Branch a pair of number ones capable of competing with anyone in the conference.
“I think the ceiling is really high for us,” Bridges said. “Returning conference champs is a big deal but defending that would be an even bigger deal so we have a lot on the line but not losing any guys that is a big deal for us.”
Bridges led West Branch with a nine-hole average of 43.5 last season
just more than a stroke better than Thein.However, Thein posted the low nine-hole (37) and 18-hole (74) rounds.
Thein fired a 74 to finish runner-up at the RVC meet while Bridges shot a 75 to win the sectional meet.
Bridges and Thein are the headlines but West Branch had four different players earn medalist honors last season and return six players with varsity experience.
“We had four medalists last year, which is impressive,” Sexton said. “Trevor and Ted kind of set the bar, they have potential to be in the 70s but I think we have other guys that can play in the mid to low 80s and sneak into the 70s on a good day.”
Last season West Branch got the attention of the teams in the RVC.
This spring the Bears are hoping to continue to turn heads around the state.
“I wasn’t surprised with what we were able to accomplish but I think a lot of other people were,” Thein s
aid. “I think what we have here is really special and kind of only we know about what we can do. I think now everyone in our conference and hopefully some people around the state have our team circled as a team to watch this year.”West Branch finished fourth at the sectional meet, 12 strokes away from a team spot at the district meet.
This year the goal is going a step, or two, further.
“I think we have state on our minds I know that,” Thein said. “All the upperclassmen have been talking about how it’s our dream to go to state as a team together. It would be nice to go individual but I think we all agree that it would mean a lot more to all of us if we went as a team to go to state. We haven’t gone to state since 06 I think, it would mean a lot for us and I think we have the team this year to do it.”