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Fighting Tigers’ golfers use depth to reach state tourney

Golf can be a sport for individuals, but the team concept is more challenging. And in order to challenge as a team, the key is depth.

The Ironton Fighting Tigers play golf as a team, and they are a team that can meet the challenge because they have depth.

Six golfers — Andy Holtzapfel, Josh Zornes, Jonathan Williams, Mason Weisgarber, Josh Mullins and Josh Cooke — comprise the Ironton team and they are all capable of being the team’s medalist for a tournament.

That depth has not only allowed them this season to win their own invitational, the Division II sectional and get a runner-up spot in the district tournament, but it has put them in the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament Friday and Saturday at North Star Resort in Sunbury.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but the depth of our team is what’s been the key to our success. We knew we had to step it up this year as a team and we’ve done that,” said Ironton coach Jeff Kerns.

A prime example of the team’s depth lies with Cooke, the team’s sixth man who will be an alternate for the state tournament and only play in the event one of the top five is injured.

Cooke has been a medalist during the regular season and played among the top three as well. But he did not play well at the district and will be more of a spectator.

“My role is to cheer on my teammates and try to help them relax and have fun and play their best,” said Cooke.

“But this motivates me to do better over the break so that I’m one of the top five next season. It helps us to strive to get better to be one of the top five. It helps us as a team. We all have to do our best, and that’s a good thing. I’m just glad to be part of the state team.”

Playing as Ironton’s No. 1 in the tournament will be Holtzapfel, a three-year starter who has been an All-SEOAL selection the past two seasons.

With the graduation of Nathan Kerns who is now the No. 2 man for Marshall, Holtzapfel said the team had to improve and rely on its depth to compensate for the loss of their top player.

“I thought I had a little more pressure without Nathan than in the other years. We didn’t have someone to really rely on to be even or under par,” said Holtzapfel.

“This is still a young team. I felt like I could have played better this year, but I’m happy with the way I played overall.”

Weisgarber improved all season, shaving five strokes off his average from last season. He said everyone put up better numbers.

“I improved a lot, but team-wise we were more consistent. I think we all knocked down a couple of shots from our scores. I think we’re a different team this year. We have more depth,” said Weisgarber.

Zornes began the season as medalist in the Ironton Invitational and followed it with other outstanding tournaments. He said it was a reflection of the team’s improvement.

“We felt we would be a better team. We had more experience and we got better over the summer,” said Zornes. “We were supposed to go to state and we were first in the sectional and second in the district. That was our expectations.”

Williams wasn’t among the top five last season, but he has been second on the team in the past few tournaments and earned All-SEOAL honors.

Besides golf, Williams also plays baseball and he said his summer league baseball season had an effect last year. He made an adjustment this year and it has paid dividends.

“Last year I really didn’t improve much from my freshman year. A lot had to do with playing baseball in summer and going to the (senior league) state tournament,” said Williams.

“This year I did my best to work around it and I played a lot of golf even though we went to state again. It really paid off. Throughout the golf season t feel like everything has some together especially in the big tournaments.”

Mullins is another Ironton golfer who has improved his game this year and has been playing peaking at the right time.

“I had play all right, but I didn’t play my best. I’ve been working on my swing and trying to get everything figured out by (this weekend),” said Mullins.

Despite playing as the No. 1 and No. 2 man for much of the season, Zornes admitted he had some bad outings including the sectional and district tournaments.

“I put more pressure on myself. I was playing better the first two tournaments, then I was off and on,” said Zornes. “I played bad the last two, so at the state I hope to play really well.”

The state tournament trip for Ironton is the 11th. The Fighting Tigers have three state titles and a state runner-up trophy. However, this team is not among the favorites to win the state tournament and that is another challenge the team likes.

“My main goal this year was for the team to make it (to the state tournament). Now that we have, it’s a relief. But now I don’t just want to make the state tournament. I want to win it,” said Holtzapfel.

Williams is much more emphatic about the goals for this weekend.

“We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re the underdogs. We were not expected to state contenders. We were expected to be a good team, not a powerhouse,” said Williams.

Weisgarber was thinking more about how it would be playing in the tournament than setting team goals. He said that would come later in the week.

“We just have to do all we canon the greens because that’s the only thing that’s going to be different. I’m a little nervous, but I think I was more nervous at the district,” said Weisgarber.

Zornes, too, said he was feeling the butterflies in his belly.

“I’m excited and I’m nervous. We’re playing some really good schools and that makes me excited, and I’m nervous because playing really good players,” said Zornes.

Mullins said playing in the state tournament is a dream come true.

“I’m kind of I can’ describe it. I can’t believe I’m playing in the state tournament. I’ve been wanting to do this for two years and now I’m finally getting to do it. I don’t know what I’m going to do on the first tee. I’ll be shaking. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m looking forward. I want to enjoy it,” said Mullins.

Like his teammates, Williams said he was getting emotional about the state tournament.

“I’m really not nervous. I’m excited. I played at state level two times in last two year. I’m relaxed. I’m going to give it my best shot,” said Williams.

“Our team is very deep. If everyone on our team plays well, it’s going to be scary. If we play our B-game, we’re still scary. We all have the ability to shoot 74-75.”

Regardless of how the Fighting Tigers finish this year, the future is just as promising. All of the golfers are juniors except Zornes who is just a sophomore.

“We want to win (this year). My goal is to finish in the top five or better. If we do, our goal next year is to win,” said Zornes.