Waterloo’s golf program has been on the rise for several years now and last season looked like another rung on the ladder about to be passed.
The regular season was a cavalcade of achievements.
“We won a couple of big tournaments,” Waterloo coach Nancy Neal said. “We won the Quincy Tournament the first week of the season, which was really huge for us. That was big. We went up to the Pekin Tournament, another big one, and won that. We were pretty pleased with the whole season.”
Then the postseason hit.
Waterloo won the Carbondale Regional before bowing out in fifth place at their own sectional at Annbriar, ending the squad’s hopes for a state place.
“We were pretty disappointed in that because the team had the capability of going to state,” Neal said. “The two teams that went out of sectionals (Sacred Heart Griffin and Springfield) we battled with all season and they were really good. It was kind of a shame to end that way.”
Like Waterloo great Mitchell Gregson before him, senior Wils Hawn went out with a bang. Hawn advanced to the individual state tournament finals and finished fifth in Illinois. His impact on the young players at Waterloo, along with the leadership of his classmates on the team, is difficult to exaggerate.
“Success breeds success,” Neal said. “When you have a strong player who is a great leader and shows that through his work ethic, then kids have something to follow, something they want to emulate. They want to be a part of the program, they want to be as good as that player and it gives them something to shoot for. It really helps your program because they see what it takes to be successful and they want to have that same success. I had three strong freshmen last year and I know they really fed off of that. Kids like Wils really do have a strong impression on your program.
“Tim Yeager is going to play college golf and he has been working really hard at it all summer. Having some success on a good team really got him excited about wanting to play. Chris (Pickett) is going on to play college golf too. Derek Allen and Tyler Nevois really helped out too. We had a strong senior core there.”
Two important returning senior players who hope to emulate the example of last year’s crew are seniors Alex Robertson and Jake Brumfield.
“I have two seniors who I think are really ready to lead,” Neal said. “They have shown a lot of responsibility this summer and really stepped up and are playing some good golf. I think it is mainly just their experience which is the key.
“Jake won the Quincy Tournament last year, so he should have the confidence that he can compete with anyone. Alex has played in a lot of tournaments and has had a really successful summer, so I think he has really gained some confidence.
“Sometimes when you are under someone like Wils on your team, you kind of get ignored a little bit and I think they are ready to be the seniors and take over. They have had some success and they have the confidence in themselves to do that.”
With the departure of so many golfers, Waterloo could be in for a drop-off, but that Bulldog assembly line never stops and the Orangemen could just as easily find themselves in title contention once again.
“Even though I had so many seniors, I have Alex and Jake who have a lot of experience,” Neal said. “I have three freshmen who have quite a bit of varsity experience, two of them (Johnny Wirth and Clayton Stoker) who played all year. Charles Hawn got in enough matches last year and I tried to get him enough experience because I knew that I wanted him to carry it over to this year. I think he is ready.
“They have the experience, they have played in all those big tournaments and have had a great summer. We have five strong players and as long as we show consistency I think we can be very competitive.”