As if an abundance of talent and experience werenâ€™t enough, the St. Xavier High golf team will enter the state tournament this Friday and Saturday with momentum on its side as well.
â€œWeâ€™ve been on a tear the last six weeks,â€ said Tigers coach Dan Utley, whose team has won seven tournaments in a row and is the favorite to win the KHSAA state championship at Bowling Green Country Club.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a lot of wins as of late and that momentum is certainly keeping these guys on their toes and getting them excited.â€
18 State Titles
The Tigers â€“ winners of a state-best 18 team titles, including six of the last 13 â€“ boast an intimidating five-man roster, which includes reigning individual champion and University of Kentucky commit Stephen Stallings as well as freshman sensation Mike Sass, who fired a 3-under 69 to win the Sixth Region tournament on Sept. 25 at Charlie Vettiner.
According to Utley, the 15-year-old Sass is well-suited for the narrow fairways and small greens at Bowling Green.
â€œOn paper he should fit the golf course,â€ said Utley. â€œHe knows what he can and canâ€™t do and heâ€™s an excellent driver of the golf ball so heâ€™s always in play and giving himself chances.â€
Top Four Tigers
At the regional, St. X took the top four individual spots, winning by 26 strokes with a 1-over 289. Stallings tied junior Brendon Doyle for second with a 73, senior Ben Sullivan was fourth (74) and Cooper Musselman â€“ also committed to UK â€“ shot a 75 for a share of fifth place.
For much of the season, Sullivan and fellow senior Lucas Jones battled for the fifth spot on the roster and on Sept. 30 the two held an 18-hole playoff to decide who would round out the state team. Jones birdied the final hole to win by a stroke.
â€œLucas and Ben had almost identical stroke averages throughout the year so the only fair way to do it is to put it out on the golf course and let them determine who is going to represent the team,â€ explained Utley. â€œTheyâ€™re good friends and they handled it perfectly.â€
Utley said depth will be crucial in the two-day stroke play tournament, in which the lowest four scores among each team of five are counted.
â€œThey understand that if theyâ€™re having a tough day theyâ€™ve got four other guys on the team that can bring home a title,â€ he said.
Two-time reigning champion Lexington Christian graduated all five members of its 2011 tournament team and failed to advance out of the Ninth Region, but West Jessamine, a team that knocked off St. X via scorecard tiebreaker at the Kentucky Invitational Tournament in August, may present the stiffest challenge.
â€œThere are several good teams throughout the state, but itâ€™s definitely been a two-horse raceâ€¦ (between) us and West Jessamine,â€ Utley said.
Cal and PRP
Also representing Louisville will be Sixth Region runner up Christian Academy, led by Spencer Swift, and Fifth Region runner up Pleasure Ridge Park, led by Eric Geiger. Elizabethtown won the Fifth Region.
Other individual qualifiers: KCDâ€™s Mac Telle, Oldham Countyâ€™s Morgan Franklin, South Oldhamâ€™s Drew Froehlich and Butlerâ€™s Chase Wathen.
Sacred Heart sophomore Maggie Allen pulled away in the final 15 meters to edge reigning 2-A state champion Gabby Karas of Collins and win the girlsâ€™ 5,000-meter race at the 11th annual Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic at E.P. â€œTomâ€ Sawyer State Park on Sept. 29.
â€œThis is the first race that Iâ€™ve even been semi-close to (Karas) so that was exciting,â€ said Allen, whose time of 18 minutes, 17.44 seconds was a personal record. â€œMy coach said go out and relax the first mile, pick it up the second and go for it the third. I tried to stick to that strategy.â€
Karas, an eighth grader, finished in 18:18.06.
The Valkyries placed five runners in the top 40 â€“ four in the top 19 â€“ to take the team title with 71 points, followed by Daviess County (86), Butler (124) and Manual (161).
Chase Geary of Muhlenberg County crushed the field and won the boysâ€™ race in 16:00.74, but was far from satisfied.
â€œI feel like I had a bad race today,â€ said Geary, a junior. â€œI really want to run about 15 or 20 seconds faster. â€¦At least I won.â€
Local runners in the top 25 were Portland Christianâ€™s Jonathan Taylor (5th, 16:30), North Oldhamâ€™s David Terkula (11th, 16:40) and Luke Tarvestad (13th, 16:42), and Easternâ€™s Holden Wells (21st, 16:52) and Charles Statler (24th, 16:55).
Daviess County took the team title with 129 points, followed by North Oldham (137) and Eastern (149).
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.