Can it really be that long?
That’s the question Eastwood boys golf coach Mike Gardner was asking himself when pressed to recall the last time the Eagles won a conference title.
The answer is 2005, when they won the title in the now defunct Suburban Lakes League. Eastwood and the rest of the former SLL teams that joined the Northern Buckeye Conference in 2011 have taken a back seat to Woodmore, which won the last SLL title and the first two NBC championships. The Eagles tied for second with Lake last year and finished second to Woodmore in 2011.
If their performance at the 18-team Maumee Panther Invitational on Tuesday at Heatherdowns Country Club is in any indication, the Eagles will have to be reckoned with this season.
Eastwood finished seventh with a 330 team score.
“That’s better than we’ve done there for many years,” said Gardner, in his 42nd year coaching the Eagles. “That was a strong field and I was really pleased with our team score.”
The low man for Eastwood was last year’s NBC Player of the Year, Steven Bruning, who shot a 2-over 73 to tie for third out of 106 golfers. Bruning was the eighth player under Gardner to earn league player of the year honors, with the last being Tommy Blanchard in 2011. The SLL did not start naming that award until 1994.
Gardner expects Bruning to have another big year.
“He has played a lot of golf,” Gardner said. “He played in the Toledo Junior Golf Association tournaments and the American Junior Golf Association, and he went down to Ohio State’s Gray Course and tried to qualify into the final round of the AJGA. He didn’t make it, but he shot a 75. He was rubbing elbows with all the best players in the Midwest.
“To become an elite golfer, you have play in some tournaments and hit a lot of practice balls. He did two things you gotta do to become a top-notch player. So far this year, he’s a little more consistent. He just doesn’t get very many shots that aren’t at least satisfactory. He hits very few poor shots. He hits the ball maybe 30-40 yards farther this year with his driver, and he’s a more solid putter this year, too.”
The Eagles return the bulk of last year’s team save for Ross Bockbrader , who earned All-NBC second-team honors last season. Bockbrader was the Eagles’ lone district qualifier last fall.
Eastwood’s other top players are senior Kyle Waynick, juniors David Krukemyer and River Redman, and sophomore Nick Coffman. Krukemyer overcame a rocky start on Tuesday and finished with an 80 at Heatherdowns.
“David is very long off the tee,” Gardner said. “You can’t substitute too much for distance. Last year David was by far the longest hitter on the team. He just needs to channel the direction down the fairway. He’s getting consistent off the tee and his short game is usually solid, and he’s a good putter. He may be the most knowledgeable person on the team about golf – rules, course management, clubs. That doesn’t hurt.”
Coffman shot an 83 at the Panther Invitational; Redman, in his first varsity competition, shot a 91.
“River did very well on a course he’s never seen,” Gardner said. “He’s gotten quite a bit bigger than last year and he hits the ball very far. He has a great setup to the ball. He just needs to play. He didn’t do that as much over summer as I would have liked, but as he plays almost every day here, this fall he will get better and better every time.
“Last year Nick was kind of a small freshman who didn’t hit it very far at all. He shot some nice rounds and was good enough to letter. He was our fifth man average-wise. He’s done a lot of strength training and he’s much longer than he was last year and much crisper with his iron shots. He’s just a much different player.”
Waynick earned honorable mention all-conference honors last year and tied with Krukemyer for the second lowest average on the team.
“He’ll have his good rounds. He just didn’t have it today,” Gardner said on Tuesday. “His forte is he very seldom hits it offline with any club. Sometimes he will hit a shot that is fat and thin, and that will get him into trouble.”
The Eagles’ other returning letterman is senior Joe Boyk, who could crack the top five this season.
“He lost to River by one stroke in a 72-hole qualifier to establish our ranking on the team at this time,” Gardner said. “It’s a temporary ranking. He’ll get his chances as he keeps improving. He’s got varsity experience. He’ll step in there and help us.”
Gardner said he was glad to see junior Matt White gain some experience on Tuesday.
“He was nervous,” the coach said. “The first six, seven holes he had a different swing. I told him that’s not the way you’ve been doing it. He got better a little bit later, and he’ll get better with experience. He hits it pretty long, too, and could potentially help us.”