Nothing will impede the Elder High School golf team's resolve to improve every week this fall — not even fading sunlight. Head coach Matthew Robben said there are times when some of the golfers use car headlights to illuminate a putting green so they can practice after sunset.
"They're truly a dedicated group," Robben said.
The team's effort and dedication have certainly paid off. Elder won the district title for the first time since 1989 last week. This weekend, the Panthers are in the Division I state boys golf tournament for the first time since 2011.
Elder will travel to Columbus to prepare for a Thursday morning practice round before competing in the state tournament starting Friday at Ohio State University's Scarlet Course.
"This is a huge achievement for our program," said Robben, a 2009 Elder graduate coaching in his ninth season. "We've been close to qualifying for the state tournament a couple times over the last few years, but this is the first time we've been able to get over the hump as a team since 2011. The credit goes to the players themselves — the amount of time and effort they put into their games leading up to this season is remarkable."
The Panthers will be joined locally by Mason and Lakota East, both of whom earned team berths at the district tournament. Moeller senior Hayden Frederick and Harrison sophomore Jack Ward qualified to state as individuals.
Elder is led by senior Victor Caliguri, freshman Cayse Morgan, sophomore Mikey Schutte, junior Jake Langdon and senior Elliott Nichols. Caliguri set Elder's single-season scoring average record this year (37).
"Victor and Cayse have been an extremely steady presence for our team this year — it is reassuring as a coach to know that they will almost always produce a score that will count towards the team total," Robben said. "Victor's leadership has been very important, as this is his fourth postseason, while the others are all playing in their first. Having been through the ups and downs of postseason golf, he has driven to lead this team to new heights."
Robben said Morgan, who averaged 38.3, is advanced beyond his years in the way he thinks and plays on the course.
"He's fit in on this team since day one and has been crucial to the team's success," Robben said.
Schutte, Langdon and Nichols have also been very instrumental to the Panthers' success. All three have the talent to be a team medalist on any given day and they've been consistent over the past month. Senior Luke Corey played some important matches down the stretch for the Panthers, too.
The team has gained a great deal of experience and confidence, and that will be key Friday and Saturday in Columbus. Robben said the Panthers — and their community — could not be happier with the opportunity to play at state this weekend.
"My message to the team is that no matter what happens at state, nothing will take away the fact that we've earned the right to compete there," Robben said. "With that said, this isn't a victory lap for us — we have the opportunity to go out and compete against the best teams in the state, and prove that we should be in that conversation. We without a doubt want to play our best, but we also want to have fun and make memories that each of us won't ever forget."