No.15 BNL ready to contend
with the heavyweights in
IHSAA state championship
By Justin Sokeland
They’ve gone the distance, they made up their minds and started hacking, they’ve reached the destination without ever knowing the way. For the first time since 2009, Bedford North Lawrence will start walking in the IHSAA golf state championships.
When the sun comes up on Tuesday morning, BNL will join an elite field in the 80th annual state finals at Prairie View Golf Club, one of 12 ranked fivesomes among the 15 that clawed their way to the grand finale. The No.15 Stars, making their 14th state appearance, will chase their first title.
Qualifying for the two-round finals secured a revered place for these Stars, for this program with a legacy of quality teams and individuals who have made their mark in the game. BNL coach Mike Wright reminded them of that fact after they advanced through the regional at Champions Pointe, taking them on a quick tour of BNL Fieldhouse to gaze at the photos of their predecessors who reached this level. Before long, their picture will join those.
“That made it real to them,” Wright said.
Here’s some more reality: BNL has finished in the top 10 nine times, twice (1987 and ’88) claiming third place. The Stars are not projected to contend now, although nothing is out of the realm of possibility. Pressure comes with the expectations on others with higher rankings, with those defending a crown or a status.
That doesn’t mean the Stars have no goals, no aspirations, no dreams. There is no sense of satisfaction and relaxation. They are competitors, and when the ball is on the tee they intend to play to their potential, to post the best number possible. They did that in the regional, firing a season-best 298. No.1 Center Grove won that stage with 292, the best regional score in the state.
“We’re going to go up there and try to win the thing,” Wright said. “There’s no pressure, no cut, so you can focus on just playing the way you normally do. Initially, you’d like to finish ahead of the teams ranked behind you, and try to knock off some in front. Winning is the goal, but it’s like the NBA lottery. You don’t really expect it.
“When the pressure was on (in the regional), they did rise to the occasion. If we get through the first day and see we’re in the middle of the pack and can make a move, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. They should have goals in mind.”
“I don’t think we can be just satisfied,” BNL senior Zak Cummings said. “I think we have to go there with the same mindset we’ve had all year. Obviously there are some teams that play at a different level, but I think we can compete with the bulk of the teams.”
For Cummings, it will be a farewell tour. BNL has clicked since he was positioned in the No.1 spot in the lineup, winning the Hoosier Hills Conference and powering through the sectional (second) and regional (third) since that move. The others (Ethan Stanley, Daylen Tidd, Blake Martin and Koby Robb) have followed his lead. They’ve all had their highlight rounds.
“It will be emotional, knowing I’ll never play for BNL again,” Cummings said. “I’ve had a great four years. Right now I’m pretty calm, but when it comes to the first tee I might be shaking.”
This will be uncharted territory, on a course – hosting the championship for only the second year – none of them had seen until practice rounds (on Saturday and again Monday). The Stars had a brain-picking session with former BNL girls star Kennedy Holtsclaw (who played in the finals) and former Mitchell standout Chad Phillips (who says Bluejackets and Stars can’t get along?) to glean as much information as possible. What did they learn?
“Keep it in playable position off the tee, you can score,” Wright said. “If you start spraying it, you’ll be in heather, in bunkers, out of bounds. There are a lot of bunkers. So positioning is critical. We should be able to go there with confidence.”
“We are really going to rely on yardages, where to hit it off the tee,” Cummings said. “It’s very important to hit the fairway, so we just have to play smart to where we place the ball.”
Westfield won last year’s title with a 36-hole score of 584, four shots clear of Center Grove, and those two should be among the contenders. However, if Prairie View plays in similar style to the course BNL just conquered, if the Stars can get four cylinders firing together, they believe they have a legitimate shot at challenging the favorites.
“We saw we can play with them,” said Stanley, an unabashed freshman who fashioned a 1-under 71 in the regional (one shot away from medalist). “We definitely want to have fun and enjoy it, but we also want to have in the back of our minds that we are competitive and we can do it. Nobody expects us to, so there’s no pressure, but we’re ready.
“BNL teams in the past definitely accomplished a lot. We just want to be that one team that completes it.”
IHSAA STATE FINALS
Prairie View Golf Club
x-7,073 yards, par 72, the only Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course in Indiana
x-First round: Tuesday 8 a.m.; Second round: Wednesday, 8 a.m.
x-Field: 15 teams, 25 individuals
x-Ranked teams: No.1 Center Grove; No.2 Westfield, No.4 Bloomington South; No.6 Fort Wayne Dwenger; No.7 Hamilton SE; No.8 Zionsville; No.9 Columbia City; No.10 Homestead; No.11 Lafayette Harrison; No.13 Evansville North; No.14 Yorktown; No.15 Bedford NL
x-Defending champion: Westfield; Defending medalist: Cole Bradley, Laf. Harrison