Young MHS golf team heads to state tournament

By Joel Jellison

They might be the youngest golf team at the state tournament on Monday, and they are taking their “mother,” with them.

The Manhattan High boys’ golf team will boast a youthful lineup at the Class 6A state tournament in Garden City, bringing three freshmen, two sophomores and a senior to Buffalo Dunes.

Senior Joe Ballard, who was once the young guy on the team, said he often takes the role as more than a leader to the team, but as the parent.

“I kind of joke around with them and call them my children, I’m like their mother figure on the team,” he said. “We just joke around about it, I’m like the mother or the papa bear. It’s weird to think I was in their shoes two or three years ago.”

MHS coach Brad Ficke said sophomore brothers Scott and David Woods, and freshmen Cole Dillon, Pierson McAtee and Drew Casper are an often-goofy bunch, that brings a high level of competiveness to the tournaments.

But when it gets back to the van for the trip there or the trip home, the goofy comes right back out.

“Joe always sits in the passenger seat up front in the van and we kind of just look at each other and laugh at them,” Ficke said. “He has been through it and he has never really had a group like these guys that came up together, he has always been alone, and he is kind of the mother Joe to these guys. He always just says ‘whatever guys,’ and laughs it off.”

But that’s just Joe’s personality Ficke says, one that always keeps the atmosphere fun. And whenever the young guys get out of line, Ballard is there to roll his eyes and say his signature line, “jokes, jokes.”

“We try to keep it as fun as possible, but still keep a good work ethic,” Ballard explained. “We keep it relaxed, but also make sure everyone is working hard in practice.”

Since Ficke took over for Larry Becraft for the 2008-09 school year, he has always had a number of seniors coming through the roster in waves. But with the group he has now, he has been able to essentially mold them from scratch.

He said they are talented, and most of what they have to work on involves the mental part of the game.

“It’s been refreshing,” Ficke said. “It’s been fun to work through how to handle adversity and getting to know them at such a young age. It’s been really fun for me.”

The Indians go into the state tournament coming off their best performance of the season, shooting 297 at the regional tournament at Sim Park in Wichita.

Ballard said as they all started to gather at the end of their rounds, he wasn’t too happy with his own performance. But he said it soon turned positive.

“I came in really mad, because I came in with two double bogeys in the last five holes, but when I heard everyone’s scores I got really excited,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do, that’s one of the goals this year to break 300. We did it at the right time I guess.”

Ficke said he saw the change from disappointment to excitement in Ballard, and said the team has picked each other up all year. He pointed out that while the young guys picked up Ballard on Monday and at other tournaments, Ballard has been there to do the same for them.

“It’s nice when you can have a team do that, and a couple times this year it’s been Joe saving their bacon,” he said. “That’s what teams do.”

Ficke said the team played OK in practice before Monday’s regional tournament, leaving him to hope they would play well on the actual day.

Dillon and Scott and David Woods each shot 74, while Casper pared his last nine holes and finished at 75.

“I was so proud, especially for Drew and Cole to keep it together, ” Ficke said. “Drew paring nine holes straight, you couldn’t stop that kid from smiling, and I had the opportunity this week to give him his bag he earned, and he couldn’t stop smiling again.”

Ballard said they hope to repeat their performance as a team at the state tournament on Monday, knowing that they can do it again if they stay relaxed and play up to potential.

None of the players have played in competition at the course before, and, to Ficke’s knowledge, none of the players have even been to Garden City before.

But, the MHS coach said they’ve been there before with a new course — at the regional tournament.

“None of those guys had ever seen Sim Park either,” Ficke said. “It will be a longer course and maybe more difficult, but they are up to it.”

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