CEDAR RAPIDS – The Cedar Rapids Kennedy boys golf team had plenty to play for Monday.
A district championship streak, individual and team state berths, but teammate Drew Wall may have provided the biggest motivation of all.
Wearing purple shirts adorned with Wall’s initials and his first name across the back, the Cougars claimed their sixth straight Class 4A district crown, posting a team total of 300 at Elmcrest Country Club. Runner-up Ottumwa was 10 shots back with Cedar Rapids Xavier third at 312 for its second state berth in school history.
This day belonged to the Cougars and Wall, who accepted the team’s championship banner after the victory. Kennedy Coach Mark Wilden conceived the idea of honoring Wall, who is battling cancer, last Wednesday, which was instantly approved by Athletics Director Aaron Stecker. Shirts were ordered, shipped, stitched and distributed just in time for Monday’s event.
“We just want him to know that as much as he thinks about being a part of this team, this team really appreciates having him a part of it,” Wilden said. “It feels inadequate to do a small statement like this. Kids love him.”
Wall, a 16-year-old sophomore, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, a handful of years ago which led to the amputation of his right leg. He remained active, participating on the Kennedy golf team once he started high school. The tribute was special, especially the Cougars wearing purple, a nationally recognized color for cancer awareness, instead of the green and gold school colors.
“Not only playing for Kennedy, but playing for me,” said Wall, who has undergone numerous surgeries to fight the disease. “I thought it was just amazing that they would do that.”
Wall found out about the gesture during the weekend.
“It was a huge surprise,” Wall said. “I was humbled by it to know that they would have me in place of Kennedy.”
Wall has been inspirational to many, speaking to the University of Iowa football team in the past. He was selected as one of 50 “Champions” from Iowa by the Children’s Miracle Network. As part of the group, he toured the White House in Washington, D.C., and took a group picture with President Barack Obama in mid-September.
“I got a high-five from him,” said Wall, also experiencing a trip to Disney World. “It was great.”
Wall recently underwent another surgery after the discovery of cancer in his left lung and left hip. He said he isn’t feeling too bad, except for being tired and a persistent cough.
“That news is tough,” Wilden said. “When you’re (16) years old, a sophomore in high school, to have gone through all the things he has gone through I just thought it would be nice if his family knew they don’t have to be alone.”
Kennedy senior Harrison Moore drew motivation from Wall. The Cougars’ No. 1 golfer carded a 41 on the front nine, but rebounded with a 2-under 33 on the back.
“I didn’t want to shoot a bad round and not make it to state for him,” Moore said. “It pushed me today to shoot a little bit better.”
Moore said he gained confidence on the back nine, helping him overcome nerves. He managed to earn a runner-up finish, coming in four shots back of Ottumwa’s Matthew Walker, who shot even par. He birdied three of his final four holes, sticking his approach on No. 18 a few feet from the cup.
“I was just going after it more,” Moore said. “My nerves were going pretty bad there. I was still able to get over it and make it.”
Wilden said he knew Moore would improve over the last half of the round, but he performed even better than expected.
“That’s just a testament to his character,” Wilden said. “He wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He willed himself to lead us to a victory.”
Moore tied teammate Cole Murdock with a 74, and received the silver medal by winning a one-hole sudden-victory playoff. Kennedy’s Kyle Custer and Davis Sutton added a 75 and 77, respectively. Kennedy held three of the top four individual spots.
The Cougars continued their tradition, extending their state meet appearances to six to match six straight Mississippi Valley Conference divisional titles achieved last week.
“There were a lot of good players here,” Wilden said. “For us to come out on top and not have it really be close is a real accomplishment to our players and their determination.
“It shows how deep our team is,” Wilden said. “I’m very proud of these kids.”
Their 42nd Street counterparts were filled with pride, securing the Saints second state team berth since the merger of Cedar Rapids LaSalle and Cedar Rapids Regis. This has been the focus since watching a teammate compete at state as an individual.
“It’s a pretty happy way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Xavier,” Saints Coach Tim O’Brien said. “I’m very pleased.”
The Saints battled a slow start, but got stronger as the day progressed. O’Brien noted Matt Junge and Ben Sagers both followed a bad hole with birdies. It was indicative of the team’s perseverance and looking forward instead of back.
“They did a nice job of staying mentally tough and just continued to play,” O’Brien said. “They don’t ever give up.”
Junge powered Xavier with 76 and Sagers was right behind with 77. John Ingwersen shot 78, while Robbie Thinnes, John Drahozal and Jordan Even each carded 81.
“Actually, all the kids’ scores counted for Xavier’s first state berth,” O’Brien said. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
First round of the 4A state meet begins noon Friday at the Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City. Saturday’s final round is set for 9:30 a.m.
CLASS 4A DISTRICT MEET
At Elmcrest Country Club
Teams - 1. C.R. Kennedy 300, 2. Ottumwa 310, 3. C.R. Xavier 312, 4. Waterloo West 321, 5. Dubuque Wahlert 332, 6. C.R. Washington 333, 7. C.R. Jefferson 334, 8. Linn-Mar 338, 9. Dubuque Senior 344, 10. Dubuque Hempstead 345, 11. Cedar Falls 347, 12. C.R. Prairie 352, 13. Waterloo East 504.
State qualifiers - 1. Matthew Walker (Ott) 34-36-70, 2. (tie) *Harrison Moore (CRK) 41-33-74 and Cole Murdock (CRK), 35-39-74, 4. (tie) Kyle Custer (CRK), 35-40-75 and Jared Deines (CF), 35-40-75.
*-Moore won sudden-victory playoff for runner-up medal.
C.R. Kennedy (300): Moore 74, Murdock 74, Custer 75, Davis Sutton 77
C.R. Xavier (312): Matt Junge 76, Ben Sagers 77, John Ingwersen 78, Robbie Thinnes 81, John Drahozal 81, Jordan Even 81
C.R. Washington (333): Zach Gothard 78, Dominic Rodriguez 82, Matt Strand 86, Jon Landis 87
C.R. Jefferson (334): Zach Denny 81, Ben Otis 83, Jake Van Oort 83, Mitch Willems 87
Linn-Mar (338): Trevor McCann 81, Jason Gingrich 82, Jacob Sevcik 87, Drew McGovern 88
C.R. Prairie (352): Cal Clark 85, Harry Knutson 87, Matt Edl 90, Blake Seda 90, Cooper Reittinger 90