The St. James golf team is coming off of one of their best seasons as a unit. They were able to fight through horrible weather and send three players to their Sectional golf tournament and nearly had players advance to the State Tournament.
One of the standouts of the season was Peyton Engelbrecht, who started the season as the team's number two golfer and ended it as their top finisher at several events. Head coach Kevin Conway said that a lot of her improvement comes from the fact that she put in a lot of work.
"Well number one she spends a lot of extra time out at the course and she really improved the most probably in her short game," said Conway. "She was able to chip and putt a lot better. She strikes the ball really well, it's just the length that gets her, but once she got around the green I think she helped save a few strokes with her chipping and her putting, which let her scores start to go down a little bit."
Joining Engelbrecht atop the St. James golf roster was Garrick Lonning. He put a lot of work into his ball-striking along with his short game.
"Overall I thought Garrick started striking the ball better, which helped him keep himself out of some trouble," said Conway. "He's one too where from 100 yards in we just really focused on that and try to see that that's where a lot of the kids started to improve because they weren't taking that five or six strokes from 100 yards in, it might've only been three or four. But Garrick just got better at the ball-striking as well, especially with his driver."
Lonning really worked to have a short memory this year, something that coach Conway preaches to all of his golfers. Conway hopes that Lonning and the rest of his golfers continue to improve in their ability to play their game one hole at a time.
"We really talked about it just being one hole at a time. If you have one bad hole, you've just gotta let it go and try to get to the next hole and try to do better. I thought Garrick did a great job of that. He might've taken a bogey or double bogey on a hole then come in on the next hole with a par," said coach Conway. "That's I think where as seniors, him and Peyton both need to get more consistent and stay away from those doubles. If you play bogey golf, you're gonna go 45, 45 and shoot a 90, which is a good score. I think that's going to be our focus for next year is going to be consistency."
The third Sectional qualifier was a first year golfer in Isaac Helterbrand. Since Helterbrand was newer to the sport, he had to put in extra work on locking down his swing, but coach Conway saw a lot of growth throughout the season.
"I think that Isaac, again, he improved with his ball striking and being able to hit the ball a little straighter and not overpower the ball. It just took him most of the season to get used to a golf swing, rather than a baseball swing because he played baseball for so long," said the St. James head coach. "His patience and getting better with it really helped him get better as the season went on. He ended up shooting in the low 100s and I think next year with the practice and stuff he'll do over the summer, he should be one shooting in the mid to low 90s just because he's working at it."
Coach Conway also saw a lot of growth from his golfers that weren't able to make it through Districts. Hannah Shasserre saw a lot of improvement in the same areas as the other three. She became more consistent from the tee box and she worked to lock things down from short range. Their fifth golfer. Max Nappier, was one of the most improved and that's thanks to noticing a problem with his clubs.
"The thing that we found out with Max is that the clubs that he had been using for maybe three quarters of the season were way to heavy for him. He found a set of clubs from a friend that were much lighter. That's when we noticed Max hit the ball even better. I think that once we say that it was like wow, I wish we could've figured this out sooner," said Conway. "Once he got these other clubs, he became a better ball striker, he didn't have to rely on just one club, he was able to use a variety of clubs and I think if he gets out and practices and works over the summer, he's one that could show a lot of improvement with this new set of clubs."
The number one thing that coach Conway wants to see his players continue to improve on is their consistency.
"I think the word is consistency. Garrick and Max have been with me since their freshman years, Peyton's been with me since her sophomore year and so coming into their senior seasons, they're more familiar with the golf courses that we're at and they've just been consistently getting better year after year after year. So obviously as a coach, you have higher expectations for them going into their senior year that they've been around a while, they've improved, we need to keep improving," said Conway. "Just them consistently playing all the time and being with the program I think is going to help us out next year."
The Tigers had a lot of lessons to learn this season, not the least of which was how to deal with adversity. This was not the best spring for golf, as St. James was constantly forced to play on soggy courses, but now they'll be prepared the next time the conditions turn sour.
"I think the adversity that they had to go through this year with the weather is just unbelievable. There weren't too many days where we had a dry course and so in our practices we kinda focused on that as well because the course wasn't always dry. (We could tell them) you aren't going to always have the best shot or you might need to club up one or two clubs in order to get a little more distance on it and I think that what they've learned is that the conditions aren't always the best and you're gonna have to be a consistent ball striker. You've gotta make sure that you're not getting yourself into trouble even though it's wet or its muddy or the rain is making your grips slick. They've got to mentally overcome that and they've been able to. We've been forced to," said the Tiger golf coach. "Most meets and stuff that we've had have not been the ideal situation, so they've learned how to play through that and the ones that come up next year, are they going to like it? No, but they've been there and done that and hopefully it's not going to effect them as much."
Conway also hopes that this season's success leads to more golfers and even more success in the future.
"It's one of the things that I say with almost every sport is that success breeds success and now that those three especially have had the success of being able to get out of Districts and go to Sectionals and seeing what that's like, hopefully they'll be able to carry that attitude along next year and even for years to come with Issac and Hannah. And to have that be a goal for everyone that comes out for St. James golf. We have the opportunity to keep improving, to get out of Districts, to get to Sectionals and if we can get out of Sectionals, what a great thing that would be," said Conway. "From what I hear, we have some freshman, like three or four freshmen that are coming out and hopefully they're going to be able to see what this core group of older kids has done. They're gonna see that it doesn't happen over night, it may take a year or two, but hopefully those older kids will be able to help them along to show them that you can do it if you stick with it and you put in the extra time and extra practice on your own in order to get better."
But the Tigers aren't going to be happy resting on their laurels. Conway wants to see his players get even further next season.
"It's nice to get out of Districts, it's nice to get to Sectionals, but we can't just be satisfied with that," said coach Conway. "We still need to set our goals a little higher now and say hey, let's try to get to the State Tournament. I think that the three that had that opportunity, especially with the two that are going to be seniors, they're like 'this is our last chance to do it.' I think that's kinda the next step for them. And with the younger kids, I hope they see that."