Losing by five strokes to Lexington four weeks ago at the Colt Classic didn’t tell Crestview golf coach Bob Olewiler anything he didn’t already know.
One, the Minutemen are darn good and, two, nobody is going to hand his Cougars anything just because they are defending Division III state champs.
“We struggled a little bit, but Lexington is a very, very good team and will be for the coming years, too,” Olewiler said of the defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champ. “I think Lexington is the best team in the area right now.”
Round two of the battle for area supremacy takes place Friday with Lex, Crestview and Ashland, another traditional power, all in the field at the McLean Invitational — moving this year from Shelby Country Club to Oak Tree.
All three will see each other again later in the season in the Lexington Invitational at Pebble Creek.
“Anytime you win a tournament (the Colt Classic) with that caliber of competition it’s good for your confidence,” Lex coach Ryan Zahn, a former state champion for Ontario, said. “It was our first match of the season, so the kids were excited for that and ready to get going.
“They’re competitive kids and get charged up a lot.”
Given the youth in the Crestview and Lex lineups, it might have looked to some like both teams overachieved, or at least were a year ahead of schedule, last fall.
There wasn’t a senior among Crestview’s top four. Josh Brooks, who averaged 36.6 for nine holes, was co-medalist runner-up at the state tournament as a junior first-team All-Ohioan. He was backed by three sophomores: first-team All-Ohioan Bryce Lutz, second-team All-Ohioan Ben Olewiler and Michael Staniford.
They’re all a year older and should be better, with Joe Stimpert at No. 5, getting pushed by fellow sophomore Michael Kochenderfer.
Five of Lex’s top six players from last year’s OCC title team are back. Matt Barkett, winner of the 17-18 division at this summer’s Richland County Juniors Tournament, is the only senior in the group.
Charles Mikelait is the lone junior, with overall county champ Spencer Stierhoff leading a strong group of sophomores that includes Kaleb Smith, Joey Zahn and Tommy Barkett.
It’s no stretch to say that any one of them could be low man for the Minutemen on any given day.
“Lex is very talented,” said Ashland coach Steve Paramore, winner of individual and team state championships as a player for the Arrows. “Matt Barkett gives them that senior experience and seems to be a little more serious.
“Stierhoff looked great at Dayton Country Club on a windy day and Smith is swinging the club as well as anyone I’ve seen. Joey (Zahn) is very talented, too. From one thru five, they’re super solid.”
Paramore’s Arrows were in the 15-team field with Lex at the Oakwood Invitational at Dayton CC. Stierhoff shot a 71 for medalist honors. He had already bagged a Richland County crown and the area’s best finish (fifth) in the three-day PGA Junior Series tournament at Westbrook Country Club.
The Minutemen and Arrows, who usually settle the OCC title between them, also saw each other in the Weiss Invitational at the Country Club of Ashland. Lex won that 12-team event, led by Smith’s 75.
Smith also led the way with an 81 as Lex won the Galion Invitational at Galion Country Club.
“For us to get where we want to go, we have to have guys break out of shooting 80,” Zahn said. “It’s not bad if four or five do it, but we need guys to go low to beat some of these good teams.
“Matt Barkett has been really steady and I think they’re all starting to play better. They just need to keep working hard and stay patient. You have to have enough confidence that if you have a rough start you can still come back. Don’t get down on a round early.
“The mental part, the good players have it. I preach that you’re playing for your teammates.”
The high point for Crestview thus far has been a three-peat title in the Simonson Construction Invitational at Brookside Golf Course in Ashland. The Cougars shot a 290, setting a school record by 18 strokes. It was 16 strokes better than runner-up Ashland, which had three players break 80.
Brooks fired a seven-under 64, his personal best on that course by one stroke, and got solid backing from Lutz (71), Olewiler (72) and Staniford (83).
This past Friday, the Cougars three-peated in the Tyger Invitational at Twin Lakes, shooting a 303 to easily beat Clear Fork (324) and Madison (328) in the 10-team field.
For what it’s worth, Crestview’s three lowest scores — Brooks (72), Olewiler (74), Lutz (77) — were three strokes better than Lex’s best three-man effort at the Colt Classic. But no consolation prizes were handed out there and the Cougars certainly left room for improvement with their 10th-place finish at the North Star Resort (site of their state title glory) in the Warrior-Jaguar Classic, hosted by Columbus Academy and Wellington.
Those two Central District schools tied for second at state, five strokes behind Crestview. This time around, Academy shot a first-place 308 — a whopping 34 strokes better than the Cougars.
“You can’t assume that everything is going to be hunky-dory,” Olewiler said. “Everybody has a bad day and now it’s happened to us. Everything has to go right. That was early in the season, so it’s no big deal. But last yearsomeone would have a bad day and someone else would pick them up.”
Ashland isn’t hurting for leadership, thanks to returning veterans Michael Woode and Davis Garrison, along with fellow seniors Jake Hammer and Mitch Snell. Another senior, Andrew Stein, attends St. Peter’s but is able to play for the Arrows since his school dropped golf this year and he lives in the Ashland school district.
Creating a lot of buzz for the Arrows are freshmen Beau Bayerl and Johnny Peck.
“Beau is a big kid, about 6-2 1/2, and he’s not done growing; he’s super polished already,” Paramore said. “He could be one of the best golfers I’ve ever coached. And who’s to say Johnny Peck couldn’t be a world-beater, too?”
The Arrows are looking to regain the top spot in the OCC after having their four-year reign snapped last season by Lex.
“If we play good and they play good, it’s going to be close every time we meet,” Paramore said. “I’m friends with Ryan (Zahn) and I certainly root for anyone in our conference. Their team is full of classy individuals. I look forward to the rivalry.”
Clear Fork suffered major graduation losses, including OCC medalist Curtis Peters, after equaling its best conference finish (second) last season. Leading the returnees are sophomore Luke Watson and junior Nick Schoonyan. Madison hopes to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish, leaning heavily on its four veterans: Blaine Smith, Adam Sayre, Jacob Seamans and Austin Hallabrin.
Five lettermen, including seniors and all-North Central Conference performers Eric Powell, Connor Campbell and Seth Van Dine, are back for Galion’s squad.
Ontario embarks on its first season in the Northern Ohio League. The team is led by juniors Jacob Factor, Tyler Weber, Anthony Gasiecki and Nick Sgambellone.