BOYS DISTRICT GOLF: Spartans headed back to state

CEDAR FALLS – Back-to-back? No.

Back in front.

Grundy Center avoided missing the Iowa Boys State Golf Tournament for the second year in a row by claiming a district title on Friday at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course, charting season-best rounds across the board to return to the season-ending meet after a rare one-year absense.

The Spartans gained their 10th state meet berth since 2000, avoiding the proud program’s first back-to-back absense since 2007-08.

Grundy Center senior Elliott Eggleston shot a 5-over-par round of 77 to claim meet medalist honors, and junior Lane Bangasser made it a Spartan sweep across the top of the individual chart with his 78.

The Spartans finished in with a 322 total and Dunkerton shot 333 as both teams gained advancement to the Class 1A state tournament on May 24-25 at Lake Panorama National Resort in Panora.

“Last year this group did not even come out of sectionals, so you know, I couldn’t be more happy for this group of guys,” said Grundy Center coach Dennis Dirks. “We entered the season last year with an entirely new team … and they took their lumps last year. This year we’ve got some seniors and they have been leaders, and they had some expectations. So for them to come out of sectionals, first of all, and then to win districts … I couldn’t be more pleased for this bunch.”

Gladbrook-Reinbeck, in the district meet for the fifth year in a row, won the fifth-score tiebreaker over Tripoli for third place with its season-best 343.

But the Rebels will not be without state representation this time around, as senior Jacob Smoldt shared the third-best score of the day at 79 with two others and won a sudden-death playoff for the third-place medal.

The top four individuals, plus ties, move on to state. On Friday, GMG’s Chad Plaehn came up two strokes shy of gaining consecutive trips to the 1A finale. Plaehn, a junior, shot 81 to finish just out of the running.

AGWSR finished in the 12th and final team spot after advancing as the third-place team from the sectional meet Grundy Center hosted a week earlier. The Cougars shot 364.

Grundy Center’s last trip to the state meet was two short years ago, when an all-senior squad placed fourth at Lake Panorama. The only player to return for 2012 with any varsity experience whatsoever was Bangasser, but his hopes of representing the Spartans at state last spring were cut short by a district round of 89.

On Friday, Bangasser started 3-over on his first two holes and had to regroup after that big number began dancing in his head.

“My first hole I started off with a double bogey and I thought, “This is going to be just like last year,'” he said. “But I turned it around and it was for the better. I’m so glad we’re going to state.”

Eggleston gained back-to-back postseason medalist honors after getting sparked by consecutive birdies on holes 7 and 8. He finished out with a 37 – 1-over on the front nine – and carded a 40 on the back side to post the low round for the day.

“I actually hadn’t birdied all year during competition,” Eggleston said, “and then I birdied seven and eight back-to-back and that definitely gave me a boost in my confidence and that helped a lot.”

So did seeing all of Grundy Center’s golf hardware in the school’s trophy case every day for the last four years.

“Being on the team since I was a freshman and sophomore where they go to state and all their success and how easy they make it all look, you don’t really realize how much work goes into it in the offseason,” the senior said. “It made us want to work so much harder so we could be one of those teams. We walk by the trophy cases every day in school and see their picture and we kind of wanted to be in there too.”

They will be after posting rounds of 159 and 163 for their 322 total. Ryon Appel shot an 81 and Nick Saak shot 86 out of the No. 6 position to round out the Spartans’ scoring. Nathan Graham finished with an 89 and Sam Thompson shot 101.

“I think we put a lot (of pressure) on ourselves because we didn’t expect to lose at sectionals and I think there was a lot of weight on our shoulders,” said Bangasser. “It’s a lot of relief to get (to state) but now we need to perform down there too.”

Gladbrook-Reinbeck is getting ‘there’ for the first time since Austin Peters placed third in 2A during the 2005 state meet in Panora. Last spring, Smoldt shot a 78 that was one stroke shy of tying for that coveted fourth individual position to gain state meet entry.

But the Rebels had anticipated a team berth last May, so Smoldt came away carefree from the narrow miss. As the scores found their way to the leaderboard at the Pheasant Ridge clubhouse on Friday, Smoldt was there to monitor them.

“Last year we had more of an expectation to go as a team,” he said. “This year it would have been good to go as a team but I had more of an expectation on myself to go.

“I played pretty well, I missed a couple short putts I’d like to have back and I doubled the last hole. Otherwise I’m happy. I’m glad I can represent G-R in this way.”

Cameron Murphy, a freshman, shot the Rebels’ second-best round of the day with his 84. Bradon Trepp posted an 89 and Logan Koester shot 91 to complete G-R’s team score. Austin Harris added a 92 and Bryce Ehlers shot 95.

Plaehn, a GMG junior, said he had a number of putts that burned the edges of the cup and eventually denied him his second straight state meet appearance. The program’s first state qualifier since 2006 recalled hitting the back of the cup with his par putt on No. 6, but it bounced out and sat on the lip instead of dropping into the jar.

“My putting,” he shrugged, “a few more (putts) could have fallen, that would have been nice. I thought anything in the 70s would make it (to state), and I was gunning for a 78 but it didn’t work out.”

Owen Abkes led AGWSR with a round of 83, but the rest of the Cougars were in the 90s. Kody Boheman shot 92, Derek Schipper had 93 and both Hunter Wagner and Carson Lutterman carded 96s. Lucas Beving added a 99.