The Clay golf team clinched its 15th SOC I in the last 16 years on Thursday evening at the Elks Country Club, but it was hardly business as usual.
Coming in to the final conference match of the year, the Panthers needed to outscore Eastern by five strokes and outscore South Webster in order to claim the title.
Clay did that, and then some. Wyatt Large led the charge with a low score of 41, and the Panthers out-shot Eastern by 14 strokes to claim the championship.
“There was no hiding it…we knew it was four shots and to stay ahead of South Webster,” Clay golf coach Jason VanDuesen said. “They all stepped up. They knew what was ahead of us, they knew what to do.”
Large’s 41 earned him co-medalist honors, and came despite shooting a double-bogey on the final hole.
“I told him if he broke 40, I would have taken him to the Ribber for a steak. That would have been a steak well worth it,” VanDuesen said. “He’s my only senior. He’s been the leader, really really consistent this year. When we know we have a consistent leader, it kind of gives us a leg up most of the time.”
Following behind Large was freshman Hunter Mathias with a 50, sophomore Caleb Cline with a 51 and Hunter Armstrong with a 54.
“Mathias has come along steady all year. As a freshman, I didn’t really know what to expect, but he’s come out and really taken over our number two spot.
“Caleb Cline did not play last year, but he’s fallen in love with the game. He’s literally getting better every week, coming on strong as a player that I can depend on,” VanDuesen added. “Armstrong has really worked hard on his game, tried to improve and worked on some things.”
Clay’s championship comes just one season after losing five seniors to graduation. This year, the Panthers had to survive a hot start from South Webster and were forced to overcome a 31-stroke deficit with just three matches remaining in the conference slate.
The 2015 race for the conference championship was by far the closest its been in recent memory. In the last two seasons, the Panthers had clinched the conference championship by well over 100 strokes.
But for VanDuesen winning with a young, inexperienced team makes it that much sweeter.
“We weren’t even supposed to compete this year. We were a young team, an inexperienced team. We weren’t even supposed to be mentioned as league champs,” he said. “With five very solid seniors graduating…you don’t know what the younger guys can do. The only way to get over that is to get the experience. Two freshman, three sophomores on the team, they all got playing experience this year.”
Western freshman Elias Montgomery also shot a 41 during his round, clinching Player of the Year honors in the SOC I. Montgomery medaled in all five conference matches this year. According to VanDuesen, Montgomery is the first freshman to win player of the year since 1995.
FIFTH SOC I GOLF MATCH
THE ELKS COUNTRY CLUB
SOUTH WEBSTER 205
B Montgomery 50
NOTRE DAME 204
FINAL SOC I STANDINGS
Team (5 round total)
1. Clay 1015
2. South Webster 1025
3. Eastern 1033
4. Notre Dame 1071
Player of the Year — Elias Montgomery (Western)
Coach of the Year — Jason VanDeusen (Clay)
First Team All-SOC (5 Round Total)
1. Elias Montgomery (Western) 204
2. Wyatt Large (Clay) 223
3. Cole Haislop (Eastern) 232
4. Truman Hash (Notre Dame) 245
5. Luke Collins (South Webster) 247
5. Quentin Alley (Eastern) 247
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter