CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls didn’t just reach a goal, the Tigers made a statement during Tuesday’s district golf meet on their home course Pheasant Ridge.
Showing patience and mental toughness through the type of windy conditions that could make any golfer cringe, the boys from Cedar Falls booked a return trip to the Class 4A state meet with the state’s lowest qualifying score of 300.
“The wind was gusting about 25 miles per hour sometimes, but we showed up excited,” said Kenton Engels, Cedar Falls’ first-year head coach who worked the previous five as an assistant. “You could see on faces of the coaches and players for everybody else that they showed up dreading the fact they’d have to play in the wind. What stood out from our team was an attitude that this is normal. We’re expecting to play well.”
Tuesday’s performance has forced the Tigers to reevaluate what’s possible when they tee off 10:30 a.m. Friday for the first of two state tournament rounds at Marshalltown’s Elmwood Country Club. Cedar Falls hasn’t been beaten by another team since Sept. 7 and owns 4A’s third best scoring average.
“Our expectations have shifted a little bit,” Engels said. “The fact that we have so convincingly won yesterday just provides us with a lot of confidence to know the top spot is not out of reach at all.”
This team is led by golfers who spent the summer competing in regional tournaments.
Ben Bermel opened August high school play with medalist honors at the large Mississippi Valley Conference supermeet, and has been a frequent medalist contender throughout the season, carding the low score again during Tuesday’s qualifier. Junior classmate Trevor Heinen tied Bermel for the team’s low score over three rounds as Cedar Falls won its MVC Divisional title, and fellow junior Joe Dean has also shown he’s capable of producing his team’s low number.
Bermel was Cedar Falls’ leader during the 2016 state meet, placing 13th individually for a team that finished 10th.
“Having Ben go out there and play number one is just a huge confidence boost to everybody,” Engels said. “I think it provides him a lot of confidence knowing that the next two guys he sees off the course are going to have good scores. The spectrum of possibilities for them is so narrow because of all the hours they’ve put in.”
Cedar Falls’ lone senior Brandon Nelson is also back from last year’s state qualifying team, while freshman Kevin Yang and sophomore Jack Moody are valuable sources of depth capable of turning in a counting score.
“Our sixth score was almost never in the 90’s,” Engels said. “If it wasn’t going so well for one, we had a couple other people on deck. When you hit a bad shot, you’re not thinking the round is over, the tournament’s over, anything like that.”
Competing on a short Marshalltown course, Engels anticipates a tight team race. Last year’s champion West Des Moines Valley and third place finisher Linn-Mar failed to earn a qualifying spot this year. Runner-up Waukee graduated four of its top five from a year ago.
Scoring average leader Marshalltown finished seven strokes back of Cedar Falls Tuesday and may have an edge when home courses flip this weekend. Johnston is second in scoring average.
“You won’t see a huge disparity in the scores that come in,” Engels said. “With it being so tight I think it’s really going to come down to the fundamentals, putting and limiting trouble.”
Countless hours of practice have paid dividends for a Cedar Falls team that has taken a step forward as it now looks to find a place among the state’s title contenders.
“They continually motivate each other by competing against each other in practice,” Engels said. “I really think that can’t be overstated. Whether it’s a putting drill or playing some holes, they’re just very motivated to be one better — and I think that really pays off.”