NORMAL — Winning a second straight Class 2A title wasn’t going to be as easy as last year for the Charleston boys golf team.
Last year the Trojans had a blistering final nine holes to pull away from St. Viator and Normal University with a two-day total of 599.
This year there wasn’t going to be a two-day score. Snow accumulation on the greens made them unplayable, leading the IHSA to cancel Friday’s round, making it a one-day state tournament on Saturday.
Then Charleston didn’t get off to a typical start. With most of the players making the turn, the Trojans were seven strokes back of Quincy Notre Dame.
For the second year in a row, the back nine of Weibring Golf Club was the savior for the Trojans. As QND and St. Viator started to struggle with the back nine with some bogeys and double bogeys, Charleston avoided getting into trouble and played close to par golf.
Soon the seven-stroke deficit turned into a four-stroke lead for the Charleston with about three to five holes to go for some of the Trojan golfers.
That four-stroke lead shrank to a one-stroke lead but when Ben Lanman made his par putt on hole No. 18, it assured that Charleston finished one stroke ahead of Benton and the Trojans won their second straight 2A state title.
“Every one of these boys are just winners. We were down seven strokes and to come back from what was going on yesterday … everyone responded today,” Charleston coach Randy Harpster said. “It’s just an incredible effort to do that.”
Senior Keegan Gowin said it’s an incredible feeling winning back-to-back state titles, especially with the target the team had on its back.
“I can’t process it still. We knew a lot of teams were coming for us. All of the guys, we all put our part in,” Gowin said. “It feels a bit better. We knew we could do it but we knew there were a lot of teams that wanted it, too. We knew we had to put the extra work in and we did.”
Senior Preston Smith was the top golfer for Charleston as he shot a 74 and finished in fifth place.
Smith said the final team result was a bit too close for comfort.
“But it was fun and I love it,” Smith said with a laugh. “It feels good. It stinks that we will never be playing together as a team again, but two states will go into the books as pretty fun."
Smith found out how far behind the team was in the back nine but he had faith in his team.
“We I came to the turn at nine, it was at three and then coach told me it turned to seven (behind). We came through and pulled it off and we all played well on the back nine,” Smith said. “We are all good players, and I knew we would pull through in the end. I had a feeling we would.”
Harpster was a bit nervous at the turn but he remembered how his team did in the back nine last year, so he knew the team had a good final few holes in them.
He felt the team would tap into that championship form that they found last year at Weibring.
“We had a lot to draw from last year and we knew we played the back nine better as a team than we do the front nine,” Harpster said. “We did that in our practice and yesterday when we had the chance on the back. I was very confident that we could come back because we didn’t play our best on the front.”
Smith’s score was a big reason why the Trojans made up as much ground as they did. His 74 and fifth-place finish earned him All-State honors, which he just missed out on by one place last year.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet. All-State is pretty good,” Smith said. “I love this course and I love putting on it. The greens are great and it’s a college course. Just gotta go out and play well.”
Last year Robert Rardin had a clutch final last year with a 67 to lead the Trojans to the first state title. He golfed a three-under on the back nine. Rardin, who jokingly called himself the clutch one from last year, had another clutch round on Saturday in the back nine. After a rough front nine with six bogeys, he leveled off and shot a one-over on the back nine to finish with a 78 and was Charleston’s No. 2 scorer on the day.
“I made a 10-footer on the last hole for par and I didn’t leave myself enough close looks for birdie,” said Rardin, who is a senior. “I feel like I lived up to the nickname on the back nine. After the front nine, I shouldn’t have needed to be clutch but oh well.”
Rardin said the team proved how good the team is again on Saturday.
“Back-to-back, not much else to say,” Rardin said. “We came out here and never lost a state championship when we’ve been here as a team. It was a great team victory and thank you Preston for pulling us forward.”
It was Lanman’s putt that sealed the victory and even though it was his worst 18-hole round of the year with a 79, it was still good enough to help the team win a state title.
“I don’t think any of us had our A-game today, so it was still nice to come out with a win. We could’ve showed a lot more today. We got the win and I am happy with the results,” said Lanman, a senior. “I had my worst round but it could’ve been a lot worse. I just knew we had a chance and I just stuck in there.”
Junior Blake Wolfe put together an 81 to finish as Charleston’s No. 4 golfer.
“It was fun. We knew we could do it and we just performed at our best and did it,” Wolfe said. “We put a number in our heads and we didn’t do that number, but it was awfully close. I was playing pretty good and then I had one bad hole. Other than that, I counted and I helped our team win it.”
Junior Zach Will shot an 85 for Charleston. Gowin finished with an 88.
“The second state title feels good. I didn’t come out and shoot the greatest. We were ahead yesterday and they called it off and that got us a little upset, but we knew we could come out and do it again,” Will said. “We just put it behind us and played like we knew we could play.”
Benton finished in second place with a 313 and Quincy Notre Dame was third with a 315.
Harpster said the team won the state title the same way they’ve won every tournament they’ve been in the past few years. They did it as a team with everyone playing a role.
“Keegan’s score and Zach’s score didn’t count today, but they are two of the big reasons we are here today. Blake Wolfe came up huge for us today,” Harpster said. “Robert, Ben and Preston did what they’ve done all year and they played great. It was a complete team effort, and I couldn’t be more happy for our players and our community and just everybody involved.”