CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids Kennedy was determined to prove a point last season.
The Cougars are now determined to claim a state title for an even bigger statement.
After a Class 4A state runner-up finish in what some predicted to be a rebuilding year for Kennedy, the focus has changed from proving themselves to capping the 2013 fall golf season with state gold. The Cougars open the season Thursday with the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet at Airport National Golf Course, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
While other teams were more touted last season, the young golfers reminded everyone never count out the Cougars. They don’t crave being noticed, but let their play replace words.
“I told the kids they needed to do something that’s going to get people’s attention, so they did,” Kennedy Coach Mark Wilden said. “I hope that’s going to carry through this season. I think they’re pretty grounded. I don’t think they have huge egos in that regard.”
All Kennedy did was continue their success with another Mississippi Valley Conference divisional crown and the fifth state runner-up performance in program history. It may not have been a shock, but it might not have been expected. The Cougars won’t be overlooked this season.
“We all expect big things out of all of us,” Kennedy’s Cole Murdock said. “We expect to do the same thing and hopefully come out on top.”
The result still serves as motivation. As much as the Cougars achieved, following the graduation of some talented seniors, some feel they let Kennedy’s first state golf title since 1990 slip away. Kennedy held the lead after the first round, but fell to champion Waukee by one stroke.
The sting of that finish proved how close they really were and the potential they have if they can close out the competition.
“We all knew we blew a lot of shots out there,” Kennedy junior Davis Sutton said about the final round at last year’s state meet. “We’re feeling like we can really do it this year. Our attitude is we can play with anyone out there.”
Kennedy returns quite a few key components from last year’s team, giving them more accomplished starters than the beginning of last season. Sutton tied for sixth at last year’s state meet, Conner Koberg tied for 10th, and Murdock, a starter last year, topped both at the Rotary Pribyl this month, as they swept the top three spots.
Ross Grekoff also competed at the state meet and was all-conference, along with Seth Nutt. Ian Stewart is a sixth returning letterwinner. All are juniors.
“We want to be the best,” Murdock said. “We want to win a state tournament before we get out of here. As a (junior) class, all six of us, it would be fun to win it this year.”
The Cougars want to continue the program’s tradition. They have qualified for the state meet six straight years and nine times since 2000. They have finish fourth or higher at the state meet since placing third in 2008. Oddly, they don’t put any added pressure on themselves to maintain it.
“Obviously, it is important,” said Koberg, who was the 2012 Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division Player of the Year. “It doesn’t really matter what happened in the past. I think we’re all just trying to do our best, win state and win every meet.
“I think we look good for another state run. Hopefully, we’ll keep improving, being better each day.”
This will be the first season this year’s junior class will compete without one of its inspirational leaders. Drew Wall battled cancer for five years, dying last November. He was a member of the Kennedy golf team, despite having a prosthetic leg and enduring multiple surgeries to remove metastases.
Murdock, Koberg and Sutton wore purple shirts in the final round of the Pribyl to honor Wall.
“We still play with Drew in our hearts,” Sutton said. “Drew is still with us. He is helping us all the time.”
Wall’s impact might be more significant off the course or when things turn bad on it. Wall’s spirit allows them to focus on what is important.
“It helps us keep things in perspective,” Sutton said. “We’re just playing a game out here and Drew will be with us the next two years.”
Wilden praised the way his team has handled adversity and how the Cougars conducted themselves during last year’s loss. He said he wouldn’t trade this group for anything, noting they are all-around achievers. Simply, they are winners, and looking to win a title.
“They are really good kids,” Wilden said. “They have strong character. They get a long super. They are a really good team.”
Airport National Golf Course, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Class 4A, Cole Murdock, Conner Koberg, Cougars, Davis Sutton, Drew Wall, Golf, Iowa High School Athletic Association, Mark Wilden, Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet, Ross Grekoff, Seth Nutt, state meet