Cedar Rapids Prairie excited for first state golf appearance

Hawks captured berth in a tight district race

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Cedar Rapids Prairie’s ritual of sending athletic teams to state competition includes an escort of drummers through student-lined halls.

The Hawks golfers have participated in the spirited rallies in the past, but this one was different. This time, they were positioned behind the percussionist parade, receiving the support and well wishes.

“All the kids line the hallway during the last class,” Prairie junior Ian Johnston said. “Seeing it was really cool but actually being in it is more fun. It was a great experience.”

The Hawks elevated the golf program to new heights, earning the school’s first team berth to the Class 4A state golf meet Friday and Saturday at Elmwood Country Club in Marshalltown. Prairie finished third at Tuesday’s district meet at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Cedar Falls, extending its season and securing its place behind the drum line.

“We knew we could do it,” senior Sam Lockhart said. “We had our eyes on it all year.

“We’re thrilled to get to state but we’re not satisfied quite yet. We still want to go and do what we can for a title.”

Prairie had this goal in its sight. The Hawks contended for state berths in the past, inching closer each season before finishing a disappointing six strokes back of achieving the feat last season at the very same course. The team’s mental toughness played a factor.

“The past weeks we’ve had the best practices we’ve had in my high school career,” Lockhart said. “We wanted it pretty bad. We worked for it. We earned it.”

Prairie Coach Erik Columbus said the Hawks have done all he’s asked and more. They held putting sessions until they were sore. The Hawks had to be pried away from the range or practice green.

“The guys are putting some extra work in,” Columbus said. “It really seems to have clicked for them.

“I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. I’m so happy they got a trip to state to reward them for it.”

In addition to their work ethic, the team gets along well. They push each other and receive a boost, wanting to do well for one another in competition.

“It’s an individual sport but they don’t want to let each other down out there,” Columbus said. “They have each other’s backs on the course.”

Before the district round started, Columbus advised the Hawks to treat each stroke the same, whether they were putting for a double eagle or a double bogey. Each shot was crucial. Prairie finished behind host Cedar Falls and highly-rated Marshalltown, edging Mississippi Valley Conference and Metro foe Linn-Mar by one.

Johnston and Lockhart led the way with 75 and 76, respectively. Senior Griff Clark and junior Jared Tjemeland, the team’s No. 5 golfer, each added 82 to round out the 315. Linn-Mar would have won by criteria if the teams had tied. Zak Zahner and Jeremy Jennissen rounded out the lineup.

“It was enormous,” Johnston said of the accomplishment. “Once we got to the first tee, I had a good feeling we were going to do really well. After I finished my round, and the other scores were coming in, I’m like everybody has a great chance.”

A year ago, Johnston suffered one of his most crushing days. He watched an individual state berth slip out of his hands as he faltered late in his round last year. When he arrived home, he received the heartbreaking news that his 23-year-old brother, Seth Carnicle, had died of a heroin overdose.

Johnston has since dedicated to help others fight addiction, raising money with each birdie he cards. In an uplifting reversal of fortune, Johnston closed strong this time. He shot 3-under over the last six holes, carding four birdies. Each was vital to Prairie’s advancement.

“I felt my brother was with me there,” Johnston said. “I really think he helped me the last six holes.”

Columbus cautioned putting too much emphasis on the state berth. The Hawks have had successful teams that weren’t able to punch postseason tickets. The feat is important to the program.

“It’s a nice feather in the cap,” Columbus said. “It’s a great accomplishment and adds validity to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Prairie heads to Marshalltown for the final competition held at Elmwood Country Club. The Hawks join Cedar Rapids Washington and Cedar Rapids Xavier and Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Brock Barnhart, who was the 4A runner-up medalist last year.

The Warriors have qualified for the third straight time, while the Saints are making their second appearance in the last four years.

Those are stretches the Hawks want to duplicate and keep beating the state tournament drums.

“We’re all excited,” Johnston said. “We’re all hoping to do really well and lay a foundation for our team.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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