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Trojans hope to give Legends a memorable last finals

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Center Grove High School boys golf coach Jim Williams has known for nearly a week the obvious feel-good storyline.

The one about how the seventh-ranked Trojans not only can claim the program’s first state championship but actually can accomplish the feat on Johnson County soil.

Today and Wednesday mark the end of The Legends Golf Club’s 14-year run as host for both the IHSAA boys and girls state finals.

It’s been quite the journey. Ten different schools on the boys side crowned in the spring, a parity lacking when it came to the girls annual showcase — three programs combining to win 10 of the 14 titles — in the fall.

“This is the only place I’ve ever known from a coaching standpoint,” said Williams, the Center Grove girls golf coach who is in his first season coaching the boys. “(The Legends) is a special place. It’s a place where for people wanting to follow us, it’s accessible to them.

“A home-course advantage for us, to some degree.”

Beginning this fall, the girls and boys finals will be hosted through the 2018-19 school year by Prairie View Golf Course in Carmel, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout opened in 1997.

Despite the venue change, Ted Bishop, The Legends’ general manager and PGA director of golf, has expressed to the IHSAA his desire to have the course remain part of future girls and boys tournaments as either a sectional or regional host.

“We did it for a lot of years and ran a lot of tournaments. To the credit of the IHSAA, to the credit of Indiana Golf and to the credit of the Legends I think we’ve made this the best state golf tournament in the nation,” Bishop said. “We started on time, and we finished on time.

“Prairie View will be a great venue for the kids. They’ll be entering into a new era.”

First, The Legends plans to go out swinging — literally — as 15 boys teams and assorted individual qualifiers converge this morning on the Franklin facility.

Center Grove, the team with the fewest miles to cover, qualified with a runner-up finish at the Providence Regional, the Trojans’ score of 301 barely off the pace set by Columbus North (298).

Junior Christopher Heck carded a 35-36—71 to place second individually. Center Grove’s No. 1 player, Austin Crowder, was next with a 35-41—76, while fellow juniors Zack Carrabine and Hayden Martin both made it around Champions Pointe Golf Club in Henryville in 77 shots.

Wes Kennell, the team’s lone senior, posted a 39-44—83.

The week before the Trojans shot a team score of 293 to win the Southport Sectional at Heartland Crossing in Camby, Carrabine and Martin leading the way with 71s.

Now it’s a matter of taking advantage of the familiarity provided.

Heck’s family have been members at The Legends for about eight years. His Center Grove teammates also know the layout well, having played numerous rounds there over the years.

“I think it really helps us. I just feel really comfortable out here,” Heck said. “The nerves won’t be as much as if I was playing a course I wasn’t as familiar with.”

Crowder views the next two days as a golden opportunity for the Trojans to prove a notch or two above their state ranking.

“We sort of have mixed feelings about the rankings. At the end of the regular season we felt we should have been ranked a little higher than No. 7,” Crowder said. “We’re pretty familiar with the course, and from a team standpoint I think it fits our games. I just like the course.

“You have to think your way around it. We know we’re going to be a strong team next year, also, but this is The Legends. We think we can do it this year.”

Williams, who took over not long after completing what was his eighth season in charge of the Center Grove girls program, concurs.

“When the position opened up, it seemed like nothing was happening. My boy (Jackson) was on the team last year, and you could see the potential they had,” said Williams, reflecting on the reason he stepped forward to pull golf’s version of double-duty.

Jackson Williams is now a sophomore, part of Center Grove’s next wave of talented young players that includes sophomore Tyler Rankel and freshman Ethan Shepherd.

“I’m not surprised this team is doing what it’s doing. Even back in February you could see this group was hungry,” coach Williams said. “The thing to me that’s so impressive is how much they love to play. You can do a lot with kids who are willing to work.”

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