If there were any doubts about its ability to contend for the state championship, the Center Grove boys golf team erased them at the recent Metropolitan Interscholastic Meet.
Ranked No. 7 heading in (they’re now No. 6), the Trojans won the MIC title two weeks ago at Hillview Country Club in Franklin, simply confirming what players and coaches have believed all along — that next month’s IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals stage isn’t too big to shine on.
“We’ve got five or six players that can really do well at the state level,” first-year coach Jim Williams said during a recent practice. “(Former) Coach (Doug) Keller laid the groundwork, and you could see it in the making.
“It takes some time for players to mature, but they are coming into their own at just the right time.”
Winning the MIC for only the second time since 1999 was just the latest, but perhaps the most convincing, example.
Despite extremely difficult conditions, including strong winds and a high, thick rough, the Trojans — paced by Austin Crowder’s medal-winning round of 75 — won with a score of 320 to edge Lawrence Central and three-time defending champion Carmel (323).
“I’m going to say we straight-up had it out for them, but we’ve always been rivals with Carmel,” said Hayden Martin, whose 77 was the second-lowest performance on the team. “Losing to them last year by a fairly close margin kind of fired us up.”
Also contributing to the win were Zach Carrabine with a 79, Chris Heck with an 84 and Wes Kennell with an 87.
AMONG THE BEST
The top 10 teams in the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association’s state poll
1. Hamilton Southeastern
3. Columbus North
5. Fort Wayne Dwenger
6. Center Grove
9. Pendleton Heights
10. Corydon Central
The impressive team effort enhanced a belief among the Trojans that they can shoot lower, that the MIC performance, in less-than-ideal conditions, was but an indication of better things to come.
“This (MIC championship) was definitely a goal for us to win this year,” Kennell said. “We have a strong team even though we are still pretty young. We had one team to beat, and we came through and did it.
“We think we can contend for state this year.”
Carrabine agreed that the win was a major goal for the team and that contending for the state title is a real possibility.
“We talked about how we haven’t really played any competition yet and we were trying to prove ourselves there. I think we did that,” Carrabine said. “We played OK (at the MIC), but I think we can do better.
“I know I could have.”
Although the Trojans aren’t satisfied with what they’ve accomplished to date, they attribute much of their success to the leadership of their new coach.
Williams has been the longtime head coach of Center Grove’s girls team, which is traditionally among the area’s — if not the state’s — strongest teams. He coaches both teams now and has imparted the same competitive traits to the boys team.
“He’s been great. He’s obviously experienced,” Heck said. “He gives us a lot of confidence, and it helps to know you have somebody like that with you.”
Williams deflects the praise and directs it toward players.
“Some of the parents were saying Saturday, ‘You’re doing a good job,’ but I said, ‘They’re doing it. I’m just riding a good horse,’” Williams said. “They put in the extra time and do all those things that make the difference.”
The Center Grove roster has made more difficult one of Williams’ chief responsibilities, selecting the five players whose scores will count toward the team total. The team has as many as 10 players who would be in the starting lineup in most other programs.
“Ethan Shepherd wasn’t in our five this weekend, but on another day he was playing number five and he shot a 71 and medaled in the tournament,” Williams said. “It’s like that with us. We have seven kids now with an average score in the 70s, and three others who are right on the verge of cracking into the 70s.”
For that, Williams credits the genuine passion all the Trojans seem to have for the game.
“There’s a difference between kids who love to go out and play and kids whose dad makes them go out,” he said. “Every one of these kids loves to go out. I’ve not seen one yet that wouldn’t take the opportunity, if they got called on a Sunday by one of their teammates, to go out and play. ... It’s competitive every day, and there are times they’ll razz each other, but it’s all in good fun.
“You couldn’t ask for a better team.”