For the third year in a row the entire Marshall boys' golf team will descend on the Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan, and for the third consecutive June the goal remains clear. The Tigers want a state championship.
In seven previous trips to the state meet, Marshall has been unable to put together two days worth of quality scores in order to win a state title. The Tigers came closest in 2011, falling two strokes shy of Detroit Lakes for the team title, though Max Deutz did earn an individual state championship for Marshall.
Deutz graduated after individual and team fifth-place finishes a year ago, but Marshall head coach Allen Lucht says that the goal for his team has not changed for the state meet in 2013.
Marshall’s Alex Buysse is one of four Tiger boys’ team members who have state tournament experience. The Tigers are looking to improve upon last year’s fifth-place finish at the Class AA state tournament in Jordan.
"I think the same thing is on our mind. We should have won the first year, basically; we just didn't hold on strong enough with all six players," Lucht said. "Max Deutz did and he won state.
"But as far as what we go in with right now, we're probably a little more equal and a little lower than we were. Maybe not in individual averages, but we had some good scores this year in team totals."
Balance will be key if the Tigers are going to unseat two-time defending champion Detroit Lakes. The Lakers, like the Tigers, return all but two of their state qualifiers from 2012.
"It would not surprise me if the team came in there really good and won the state," Lucht said of the Tigers. "But once again, it's golf. It depends on weather, how the guys are hitting the ball, things like that. I has to be four players per day getting 75 or below. That's not an easy task, I don't care what team you have.
"There are two or three teams in there that have done that, and one of them I think was at 288 this year. So the competition is tough, really tough, especially in the top five teams. I think it's a head-to-head, strong competition where the team that plays the toughest will come out ahead."
Marshall's top two golfers on the season, Matt Bennett and Brent Haukom, each have two years worth of state tournament experience. Lucht said both have the ability to win state as individuals, as long as they play to their potential.
Matt Christianson, who will be the first Tiger to take the course today (teeing off at 7:30 a.m.) and Alex Buysse were also members of the 2012 state tournament team.
Jacob Baker and Jon Wyffels will be making their state debuts for Marshall, but the two sophomores have played well down the stretch of the season. Baker in particular has seen an uptick in his game, taking medalist honors in the Southwest Conference meet before firing a 4-over 75 at the sub-section.
With a wealth of experience and six capable golfers, Lucht likes his team chances at the 36-hole, two-day tournament.
"I think we can shoot 289 or 291, somewhere in there," Lucht said, referring to a one-day team total. "I think they have a great capacity to do that. It just depends on their performance individually.
"(Bennett and Haukom) have the capability of winning state and they're that experienced that it doesn't phase them, it doesn't bother them. They know what they have to do. It's a great thing to have in their favor. Hopefully they shoot the lights out, that's a big key."
While the Marshall boys' golf team is seeking to cement its place as one of the state's premier programs, the Tiger girls' team is continuing to grow. After back-to-back seasons with a lone individual representing Marshall in the girls' meet, the Tigers are sending a pair of sophomores to compete in Jordan.
Jessica Blanchard and Hanna Peterson have each qualified for the state meet in past seasons (Blanchard as an eighth-grader in 2011, Peterson as a freshman in 2012), but this year will mark the first time that the two friends will compete at state together.
"I think that's going to really help them. They're both very similar in how they score, good friends on and off the golf course. I think it's going to be nice to have that support," Marshall head girls' golf coach Nancy Blanchard said. "They've played a lot of summer golf in the same tournaments. In that respect it's nothing new; but for them to be at the state level and have the support of another teammate, it's not quite the lonely feeling as when you're there all by yourself."
Nancy Blanchard said Jessica Blanchard's trip to state in 2011 was a surprise, but that missing out on a return trip in 2012 helped galvanize the younger Blanchard throughout last summer and this season.
"I think she was highly motivated to get back there and really wanted to feel that if she played an average round, it would be good enough to get there," Nancy Blanchard said. "And that's pretty much what she did."
Rejuvenated with the goal of a return trip to state, Jessica Blanchard led the Tigers in nearly every tournament this season. Peterson, on the other hand, had a slower start to the year. Nancy Blanchard said that Peterson likes to get a couple of rounds in each spring before reaching her potential, and that the sophomore has elevated her game in the weeks leading up to section playoffs.
"She probably came in with some high expectations and, sometimes, when those expectations aren't met it's easy to get a little bit mad at yourself and that may hurt your next shot," Blanchard said. "Once she figured out that she needed to control that a little bit, she started to hit the ball better and quite a bit further. She started to really hit the ball well in the last week of the season and that's when her scores came down dramatically."
Though their goals are not as lofty as that of the boys' team, Nancy Blanchard said that the experience gained by Jessica and Peterson is crucial to the continued growth of girls' golf in Marshall. It is also a fitting reward for their hard work.
"They've worked very hard in the last couple of year to help get themselves there," Blanchard said. "I know they're very thrilled, and I am too, I am very thrilled that they're gaining that experience. It's going to be exciting to see what they can do this year and in the years to come."
Both Peterson and Blanchard take the course this afternoon.