116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
First, weather forced West Branch to settle for a state runner-up performance.
Then, the pandemic wiped out the prep golf season and any chance for a championship.
Now, the Bears will try to tend to some unfinished business.
West Branch earned its third straight trip to the Class 2A state golf meet Thursday and Friday at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The Bears have a chance to claim their sixth state team title and first since 1992.
“From Day 1 this year, our goal has been a state championship,” junior Brady Knoop said. “We’re just two days away from that, so everyone is hoping we can come out on top.”
West Branch was second in 2019, finishing four shots back of Des Moines Christian when weather canceled the second round. It was eighth in 2018. The Bears want to complete the mission.
“It sucked having rain on the second day and not being able to play and not having it last year,” West Branch senior Kaleb Sexton said. “We’re coming in more determined this year. We definitely don’t want that to happen to us again. We definitely think this is our year we can pull it off.”
Sexton is the lone senior in the lineup and has started each season. Junior Dylan Countryman was the state runner-up in 2019 and classmate Knoop leads the team in stroke average. Juniors Gage Gingerich and Logan Highly and sophomore Will Bridges round out a tight-knit group that spends time together away from the course.
“We’re all pretty tight,” Sexton said. “We hang out whenever we get the chance. We’re all really good friends. We’ve been friends pretty much all four years of high school that I’ve been there.
“We have a really good connection that nobody can break. I think we have a pretty tight-knit team. It’s special.”
The Bears push and motivate each other to be better. They compete with one another to help the team score its best. Some good-natured barbs have been exchanged.
“Even from the beginning of the year, we were fun trash-talking each other,” Sexton said. “’I’m going to beat you this meet.’ We’re very friendly competitors toward one another. We just push each other to do better. When you have bad days, we always try to talk them up.”
Knoop has his opinion on the best trash talker on the team.
“We love to do that and challenge each other,” Knoop said with a laugh. “No one does it more than Gage Gingerich. He’ll let you hear it about how much he’s going to beat you by and push you a little bit.”
The Bears have the depth and balance that placed them among the 2A leaders. They rank first in 18-hole average (319.8), 18-hole adjusted average (327.32) and nine-hole average. West Branch is second in combined adjusted average (164.81) and top three in three other categories.
“We knew going into it we would have a real competitive golf team,” West Branch Coach Randy Sexton said. “You never know how good you’re going to be until you start playing holes, but we knew we had a chance to have a real solid year and make it back to state, if we played well.
“They’ve been checking boxes all year and they’re excited to have a shot this week at state.”
All six starters’ averages are within six shots of each other, including Knoop’s 78.91. Countryman comes in at 80.09, while Bridges comes in at 80.45. Sexton shoots 82.64. Gingerich and Highly average under 85 per round.
“I would say that is the biggest strength that we have,” Randy Sexton said. “I don’t know if there are many schools that can trust their Nos. 5 or 6 to come in and score like the No. 1 might. We’re comfortable with all our guys being able to score on any given day.”
Course management and strong minds will be vital this week. The Bears will need two complete rounds to come out on top.
“We’re going to have to stay mentally tough,” Knoop said. “Everyone is going to have a few bad holes. You have to think your next shot is your best shot. Just keep moving throughout the round.”