Both Charleston and Mattoon will be represented at the Class 2A state golf tournament at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State University in Normal. The Trojans sent their full team for the first time since 2001. Mattoon's Nick Nguyen goes as an individual, his third trip to state in four years. The state tournament starts on Friday and is a two-day event that concludes on Saturday.
Charleston coach Randy Harpster has said all season his team has the potential to shoot low scores. Throughout the season, Harpster's team has proved him right. This season continues a steady progression for Charleston. Two years ago, Ben Lanman qualified for state as an individual. Last season most of the team returned, adding a couple of new golfers. Preston Smith qualified for the state meet as an individual.
This season, Charleston returned every golfer on the varsity roster, giving Harpster high hopes for the season that the team could break through and make the state tournament. After a rough sectional where Charleston shot 321, only the second time all season the team went over the 320 mark, the Trojans rebounded and won their sectional with a 307. It was not only Charleston's first-ever sectional title, but it also sent the Trojans to the state tournament for the first time since 2001.
Harpster and his team aren't just happy to be there, though. They are hoping to come home with some hardware with a top-three finish as a team.
"I guess the best way to say it is our goal now is to bring home one of the trophies, and which one it is just depends on how we play," Harpster said. "That's our next goal. Our first goal was getting here and now we are hoping to bring home one of the three big trophies."
There will be plenty of competition for the three trophies. Defending 2A champion Normal University returns and only lost one golfer from it state title team. Vernon Hills, which finished in third place last season, returns. Morton finished fifth last year and returns to state, and Champaign Central, which won its sectional with a 302, finished in seventh last season. Lemont finished 11th last season and returns to state.
Wheaton St. Francis and Prairie Ridge both won sectional titles as they go into the state meet.
"I think until someone knocks them off, Normal U, the defending champions, are a favorite," Harpster said. "When you get to this level, every team up here is capable of winning it because they are the best teams in the entire state and there are a lot of talented teams."
The key for Charleston is finding a way to shoot lower than they have this season. The Trojans have consistently shot under 310 this season, but Normal U have beat the Trojans in the three times they've seen them this year. Morton is 1-1 against the Trojans, but Charleston has finished ahead of Champaign Central a couple of times.
"If we play at the level we've played at all but two times, we think we are in the mix," Harpster said. "This team is capable of going low. If we all play one of our best rounds for each individual, we've had three of our kids shoot 72 or under, another one has shot 75, another one has a 77 and another one has a 79. All of our players have shot in the 70s at one time or another. They are very capable."
Lanman and Smith, who are both juniors, have both competed at state, so they know the course. Plus all of the golfers have competed at Weibring over the summer, so that should take some weight off the golfers' shoulders.
"I think what it does is it makes everyone more comfortable with (Lanman and Smith) giving them advice," Harpster said. "Our kids played the course during the summer and I think this course suits our eye," Harpster said. "We are really looking forward to this experience, and knowing that we have everybody back next year, it should take a lot of pressure off these kids."
Mattoon senior Nick Nguyen is familiar with the 2A state tournament and Weibring Golf Club since this is his third trip to the state tournament. Last year he put on an impressive performance. After the first day, Nguyen was tied for first place as an individual with four other golfers. The second day didn't go as well, and Nguyen fell just out of medalist contention, finishing in 11th place with a 153.
After finishing so close to a medal last season, Nguyen knows he can compete for a medal again this year.
"I just want to have fun and compete and play well, but mostly have fun and if I am doing that, I will do well along the way," Nguyen said. "After last year, I know what it's like and what to expect. I learned from last year, and I feel I can definitely compete out there. I know a lot of them very well because I've played with a lot of them and I feel I can compete with them. I feel like I am one of the best ones out there and if I didn't feel that way, I don't know how I would be able to compete."
Mattoon coach Bob Lockart has watched Nguyen develop as a golfer for the last four years and feels Nguyen will be competitive at state again this season.
"The key will be to play relaxed and do what he's been doing all year long and be consistent," Lockart said. "I think he has the capability, but there's a lot of good golfers and he knows that. The key is Friday, putting himself in that position to make Saturday an important day. I know he has high expectations of himself. He just has to go and play and do what he can do and I think he will be fine."
Nguyen's first trip to state was as a freshman, and he finished in 40th place with a 162. Now he goes to state as a senior as a different golfer.
"I am really happy with my high school career. It's been fun and I've learned a lot about myself," Nguyen said. "I've matured so much. My freshman year, I had all of these seniors, and now I am a senior and I have to be a good example for my team because I see myself as a senior. It's been a fun ride."
Lockart said Nguyen has accomplished a lot in his four years with the team.
"I can't say enough about him from where he was as a freshman up to now," Lockart said. "Right when he came in, he had a tremendous work ethic. It's nice to see that hard work pay off for him, and this is a good way for him to finish up his high school career."