It's the dream of any athlete to compete for a state championship.
On Friday, the Bryan boys golf team will hit the course at the North Star Golf Result in Sunbury for the Division II State Tournament to compete for a team crown, while Brandon Lambert of Napoleon and Cody Knapp of Liberty Center will compete as individuals. Action gets underway at 9 a.m. on Friday, and will conclude on Saturday for the two-day event.
The Golden Bears are back at state for the third time in the last four seasons under the direction of head coach Eric Ruffer. Bryan won the district championship last week at Sycamore Springs, firing a 324 to slip past Liberty-Benton by one stroke. Luke Shaffer shot a 74 to lead the Golden Bears at districts, with Adam McBride firing a 77. Dalton Schulenberg (85), Shea Vogelsong (88) and David Miller (89) round out the Bryan quintet.
"It's a great opportunity for the team to compete at state again," said Ruffer. "We've had a pretty solid year and we're happy to have to chance to go to state once again. To me, it's a continuation of what our players have built over the years and we feel we have a great tradition.
"That being said, I don't know if tradition will help," continued Ruffer. "When you earn a chance to compete at state as a team, you're playing your best for the team, but it's really just you out there competing against the golf course. At any tournament, it comes down to shooting the best score possible."
Ruffer knows that his players will have to be precise on a course that is both long, and will penalize a player for not being in the fairway.
"Having played there two years ago, we know the course is going to be very long, over 7,000 yards," Ruffer said. "The other thing about the course is there's no out-of-bounds, just some very long Heather (grass) that is very difficult to hit out from. From what I understand it's also supposed to be windy on Friday and Saturday, which will make the course even more challenging."
Ruffer likes the fact that at one time or another, all five of his players have scored well during the season. He knows that all his players will have to do so again to challenge the likes of defending state champion Dayton Oakwood, which shot the lowest score as a team (309) at the district level.
"This group has had different guys step up all year long at any given time," said Ruffer. "We'll need all five to score their best if we want to compete for a top-five finish. The last two times we've been there we've finished sixth, which I think is a realistic goal once again. Of course we would like to do better, it will be all about playing our best."
While Bryan is competing as a team, Lambert and Knapp will look to score as well as they can to compete for an individual championship.
Lambert went to state last season when Napoleon advanced as a team, and the senior would love to close out his high school career with a career-best finish. Lambert shot a round of 76 to advance to state, while Knapp fired a 75 at Sycamore Springs last week.
"Of course Brandon would have loved to come down here with the team again, but having this opportunity really is a great way for him to close out a great career," stated Napoleon mentor Gregg Merrill. "Brandon has been spectacular this year, his scoring average is right around 74.5, and I think he's capable of shooting that or better. He's excited. Anytime you get the opportunity to play for a state championship, why wouldn't you be?
"I haven't seen this course, but I hear it's beautiful," added Merrill. "Brandon knows he's got a chance to do something special and that's there's a lot of good players who don't have that same chance. I know he's excited for Cody Knapp too. It's great those two guys will have the chance to represent Henry County this weekend and hopefully they can make some memories that will last them a lifetime."
Liberty Center coach Rick Limber knows that Knapp is playing his best golf of the year at the right time.
"Cody's probably playing as well as he ever has," said Limber. "His mental focus is very good and that's what has carried him to this level. He's excited, but he knows he needs to reign it in so he can play his best golf."
Limber and Knapp have their sights set on playing par golf, knowing that if you can shoot for par, birdie opportunities will come.
"Par is always a great number and Cody has shown he has the ability to do just that," Limber said. "Once you put together some pars, that's when the birdie chances come and you can really shoot a good score. Cody's score coming in is on par with what almost everyone else, he just needs to keep his focus and enjoy the moment.
"This is going to be the ultimate golf match of his career, he's a senior and this is the state championship," concluded Limber. "He knows what kind of opportunity this is, and he also knows he just needs to go out and just play another round of golf."