VHS Golfers Win Class A Crown

VHS Golfers Win Class A Crown
The Tanager Boys' Golf Team claimed its first State A Tournament crown Tuesday with a total score of 643.

Aberdeen Roncalli was runner up with a two-day total of 659, followed by Sioux Falls Christian and West Central, with final scores of 675 and 689 respectively.

The Tanagers were red hot Monday, Oct. 1, shooting a blistering team total of 312, on the opening day of the 2007 State Class A Golf Tournament, held at the Pine Hills Golf Course in Milbank.

The Vermillion team took a 23-stroke lead into the clubhouse at the conclusion of the first 18-hole round Monday.

That wide margin turned out to be a godsend for the Tanagers during the final 18 holes of play.

The next-best scoring team in the tournament, Aberdeen Roncalli, which shot a 335 on Monday, came roaring back on Tuesday.

At the same time, the magic that the Tanagers captured on the links during the first day of competition eluded them during Tuesday's action.

Aberdeen Roncalli shot a team total of 324 on Tuesday, shaving 11 strokes off of their performance a day earlier.

In contrast, the Tanagers found themselves going the opposite direction. Vermillion's Tuesday total was 331 – 19 strokes greater than the day before.

Aberdeen Roncalli's attempt to overtake the Tanagers fell short, mainly because the team couldn't match Vermillion's stellar first day performance.

Individually, Rainey Reynolds of Sioux Falls Christian, Ben Heller of Aberdeen Roncalli, and Tanager Alex Schaack finished the tournament tied for first place, each with a two-day score of 156.

The individual champion was decided in playoff action. Reynolds won the playoff, and Schaack finished third.

Vermillion's Aaron Steele scored a two-day total score of 162, landing him in a pack of four other golfers who all tied for fifth place.

Tanager Jordan Boots score of 163 was good enough for 10th place among the 107 competitors in the tournament.

Mikal Ustad finished the tournament in a two-way tie for 15th place, with a score of 168.

All five of Vermillion's golfers were among the 20 best scoring competitors in the tournament.

Eye on the prize

The Tanagers returned home from Milbank having fulfilled a goal they've focused on all season.

This wasn't the first time a Vermillion golf team has gone to a state tournament. In fact, last year the Tanagers had a slim three stroke lead at the end of the first day of state tournament play.

That small lead slipped away, however, and Vermillion finished as the runner-up in the state tournament in 2006, after being defeated by Lead-Deadwood by two strokes.

"I know this sounds kind of course, but how many people remember who got second, third or fourth?" coach Kirk Hogen said Friday, Sept. 28, as his Tanager team was finishing a practice round at The Bluffs here in Vermillion. "We've gotten quite a few of them, and ultimately what we're going for is a first. We've always really still come out of there with a full representation, but with this boys' team right now, we have the full intent of winning the championship."

It was clear by late September that great things could be in store for the Tanagers' golf team.

Their season record was nearly spotless; they were victorious in every match and invitational this fall except for two – the team finished fourth in one invitational and tied with Yankton during action earlier this year.

Hogen said Friday that the Tanagers' string of successes this fall hadn't turned the team into a group who simply takes winning for granted.

"I don't think any of the kids are over-confident," he said. "I really don't think that's an issue. I thought maybe mid-season we had a little bit of a loss of focus, but I don't think that was necessarily from over confidence."

Constantly staying at the top of one's game, no matter what sport one is in, is difficult, Hogen said.

"It's tough to keep up. It's tough to keep your focus and your concentration level at a peak in preparation for every tournament," he said.

Hogen noted that his golfers' performance slipped a bit during the Tanagers' homecoming week – a time filled with distractions.

"Going into this state tournament," he said Friday, "I'm hoping the team isn't feeling too much pressure. This particular team, with four seniors and a sophomore playing – really you could have considered us one of the main challengers two years ago and definitely last year."

"We had a 15-stroke lead going into the last nine holes last year, and blew it," Hogen said, losing to Lead-Deadwood. "So that was a long trip from the Black Hills all the way home last year."

It never hurts to be lucky on the links during a golf tournament. The Tanagers' success earlier this week, however, had nothing to do with chance.

The championship is a just reward for the concentrated efforts of the Vermillion team, beginning months before this year's season began.

The right focus

"They put in a lot of work this summer," Hogen said Friday as his team took advantage of some free time to practice "What we've got to do right now is approach this tournament by not worrying who we are playing.

"That can't be our focus," he said. "Right now our focus has got to be playing the Milbank golf course, in whatever weather conditions are presented to us."

The coach compared the tournament to football or basketball competition.

"Each one of those kids has to break it down into four quarters," Hogen said. "There is going to be four little nine hole rounds in the tourney. And we've got to finish that fourth quarter."

In fact, every single hole of the competition can be viewed as a separate game, he said. "We've somehow got to break it down to the individual quarters, the individual holes, the individual shots. And each one of them has got to take care of himself. Not one of those kids has got to go out and play something they aren't capable of playing."

Hogen's hunch that concentrating on hole-by-hole, or "quarter-by-quarter" play would lead to success proved to ring true both days of the tournament, but especially on Monday, when the Tanagers broke away from the pack and built a substantial lead.

Schaack topped the leader board at the tournament at the end of Monday's play, carding a 76.

Boots was only one stroke behind at 77, followed Gauer at 79, Steele at 80, and Ustad at 82.

The Tanager team found themselves in somewhat familiar territory when they stepped on the Pine Hills Golf Course last weekend. They played on the Milbank links as a group this summer.

"And I surprised them, and we went up and played in Milbank's Invite with just a day's notice, and we won that," Hogen said.

One of the challenges facing the Tanager team going into the tournament was the mastery of their short game. The four senior members of the team got to be good golfers back when they were freshmen, "and couldn't hit the ball a ton," the coach said. "The Milbank golf course is really much more of a target golf course. There's probably only a couple holes where the kids will be able to bang the 1-wood as far as they can hit it. The rest of the time, they are going to make sure that they stay focused on what they will have to do to keep the ball in play, to get to the corner, or to be short of the hazard."

Hogen was highly confident Friday that his team would not only do well in the tournament, but also have a strong chance of winning the championship.

If fate hadn't been kind, if despite the Tanagers' best efforts, the first place trophy would have eluded the team once again, the team still could easily be defined as winners.

"It's been a fun group; I'm going to miss them," Hogen said. "They've been good mentors to some young ones coming up. I can't think of anything better for them than a championship.

"This is something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

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