Of the six varsity golfers from Manhattan High heading to the Class 6A state golf tournament on Monday, five qualified for state last season.
Oddly enough, the group’s lone senior, Drew Kohlmeier, will be the only Indian making his state debut at Meadowbrook in Prairie Village on a team that otherwise consists of talented underclassmen.
For Kohlmeier, who played junior varsity up until this season, the transition to varsity has been relatively smooth.
“I just jumped right in and have played most varsity tournaments this year,” Kohlmeier said. “It’s a new experience for me, it’s a lot more serious than junior varsity was. But it’s been good.”
Manhattan coach Brad Ficke said it’s Kohlmeier’s steady demeanor that has kept him playing the majority of varsity tournaments this year.
“He very rarely lets anything get out of hand,” Ficke said. “You can always count on him to be mid-80s or lower. He never loses his composure, he’s very even-keeled. So as a senior, for him to be a role model in that way for the younger guys has been good. Some of them are a little more prone to get irritated and stomp around a little bit, and Drew never does that. He definitely has integrity.”
Ficke said the biggest challenge for his lone seniors was playing a new set of courses that are largely unfamiliar to the JV.
“He’s been around — this is fourth year,” Ficke said. “I think the hardest thing for him is playing courses he hasn’t played as much, or in that varsity setting.”
With so much young talent, space on the varsity roster was limited for those looking to make the jump from JV. Kohlmeier has made the adjustments in stride, even as a senior learning the ropes on varsity from underclassmen.
“He’s so mature, he’s thoughtful and isn’t going to be intimidated,” Ficke said. “I think he’s been able to counter with those attributes and level it out a little bit.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for the senior was the same issue golfers across the state have dealt with this spring — the weather.
“It was really about finding time to practice in ideal conditions, because there really weren’t any,” Kohlmeier said. “So it’s been a struggle just to get back to where you’re used to being, in good golf form.”
As the weather gradually warmed up over the last few weeks, Manhattan’s scores have seen a drop as consistency and routine set in. As the state tournament approaches, the Indians are hoping to play to their potential for the first time all season.
“As a team, we just want to do what we know we can do, even though we haven’t this season,” Kohlmeier said. “No one’s really happy with how they’re playing. I know we’ll never be, but we’re all well below what we know we can do and what we’ve done before.”
Sophomore Cole Dillon, who has been one of the more consistent scorers this year, agreed.
“I feel like we’ve had some good rounds individually, but haven’t put a good team score together,” Dillon said. “I feel like we’re on the rise, coming in under the radar. Nobody’s really going to think of us as a team that will do anything because we haven’t played to our potential yet.”
Dillon expects to do better at state as a sophomore with a second year of varsity competition under his belt.
“I think last year we were a little overwhelmed and didn’t handle it the best,” he said. “Now we’re more experienced and have that under our belt. We’ll be more confident, I feel like.”
Junior captain David Woods said the team can make some noise, if they can all shoot well on the same day, something that has yet to happen this season.
“We’re trying to do what we know we’re capable of,” Woods said. “We just need to all click on the same day. We’re all capable of shooting really low, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Ficke said part of the challenge with state golf is keeping everybody focused. Kohlmeier graduates today before joining his team in Prairie Village Monday.
“Everybody’s just kind of in that mode of getting ready for summer and checking out a little bit,” Ficke said. “So focus this week has been a little bit challenging, but I’ve been impressed with the guys.”
Manhattan will play a practice round today, minus Kohlmeier, who played at Meadowbrook on Thursday. The team will then get going first thing Monday morning.
“Everybody is just excited to get down there and get on the course and see what it’s like,” Ficke said. “It’s a fun time.”