Kalida and Ottoville shared the Putnam County League title this year. In the postseason, Kalida came out on top at sectionals and at districts, Ottoville were the champions.
Now the two teams will be battling each other at the state level but will also be battling tougher competition and more importantly themselves as both start playing in the Division III state tournament at the Ohio State University Scarlet Course in Columbus on Friday.
KALIDA — Kalida’s Justin Siebeneck had a rough start at the Division III district tournament last week.
After the first nine holes, Siebeneck had fired a 49 and the Wildcats came into the clubhouse fourth with a few strokes separating each other for a chance to make state. Only the top four teams make state.
But Siebeneck rallied to fire a 41 on the back nine and as things turned out, Kalida finished one stroke ahead of Allen East and Old Fort to qualify for state.
Siebeneck’s perseverance and hard work are two qualities that Kalida head coach Ken Schnipke said is the embodiment of this year’s team.
“He started out the first four or five holes rough which I would say were real rough but after that you know you probably, even though it is 18 holes, you probably have shot yourself out of the top four so give me a good fifth score and that is what he did. He didn’t give up.
“I think I have a crew that if they have given up I haven’t seen it,” Schnipke said. “They just keep plugging away and doing the best they can. All you can do is ask them to try. I don’t think any of them give up. They just keep trying. I think they are all that way. They just keep trying.”
Schnipke admitted that throughout the season this team scared him a little because when a couple of his golfers miss a shot they miss it quite a bit sometimes. But the team showed marked improvement throughout the season and it resulted in the Wildcats going 14-1 and several top-five finishes in regular season invitationals.
“They’ve worked hard at it,” Schnipke said. “Through the season I ask a lot of these kids. We’ve got half our season in before school even starts and they are all 18 hole invites. It has been interesting and it has been fun and a little bit of everything and like I said they have worked at it and I think they deserve it and have earned it.”
Schnipke adds that this run to state began during the summer when they sacrificed fun times for tee times. Schnipke said this team was motivated to make it back to Columbus and he said it wasn’t pressure to make it or he didn’t see it as pressure from this group. Seniors Ryan Klausing and Siebeneck have been the team leaders for a squad that features two juniors, Kayla Nartker and Ethan Warnecke and freshman Connor Nartker. Klausing is making his third trip to state after making it as a freshman and sophomore and Siebeneck was on the team two years ago that made it, providing additional assistance to Schnipke as de facto coaches.
“They have the experience and they have been down there so hopefully that pays off and knowing what to expect and knowing all the facilities and people,” Schnipke said. “Those two seniors are very good leaders and helping the younger kids out and even my sixth man Brent Brackman. They are just all three really good kids.
“They don’t think they are uppity or have the senioritis. They’ve helped the kids out. I don’t have an assistant so it is like having assistants with these guys. They have stepped it up to help out.”
Experience always plays a big part when it comes to state. The Scarlet courses are longer and much harder than many of these linksters have played so Schnipke tries to emphasize playing it one stroke at a time and not to get discouraged by a bad score or bad 9 holes.
“They are harder than a lot of courses that are around here and it is different for what you are playing for,” Schnipke said. “It is different mentally. You are not just going out and playing an invite. We are playing the Scarlet course and you have to hit fairways to set yourself up to score well because the rough is so demanding and the fairway bunkers are tough. You get in the fairway bunker you can’t advance it very far … and then once you get on the green it’s not easy. The greens are not easy to put on. They are fast and a lot of undulations and stuff, so it is an all-around hard course.”
Schnipke said his goal is to help the players as much as he can and hope the team can finish in the top six teams and points out that if a team catches fire anything can happen.
“You are always talking one stroke,” Schnipke said. “You just take it one stroke at a time. A one and a half foot putt is just as important as a tee shot.
OTTOVILLE — It’s all mental at this point.
Ottoville’s head coach Keith Utendorf said his team has had the internal fortitude to win the PCL tournament and share the title with Kalida this year and carried that mental toughness into the postseason with a second-place at sectionals and a district crown last week.
But know the Big Green will need to step it up a notch as they enter the Division III state tournament in Columbus this week. No one on Ottoville has been on the big state stage before.
“We have taken a look at the course,” Utendorf said.”We’ve talked about the differences it is going to present. Not just from a course standpoint but an environment standpoint. Things are a little bit bigger. There are going to be more people to watch so we tried to mentally prepare them as much as possible.
“We have talked all year honestly about managing the course and if we can manage the course then we will put ourselves in a position to compete and see the chips fall where they may.”
Like their PCL counterparts, Kalida, Ottoville missed making state last year by one stroke and that served as a driving force for them this season.
Led by seniors Carter Schnipke and Dru Hilvers, the Big Green put together a great season. Also on the team were sophomores Keaton Schnipke, Michael Turnwald and junior Grant Leis.
“I am proud of these guys, partially because of how last year finished and we had most of our guys back and narrowly missing this opportunity last year and for our guys to improve and they all did, I am pretty proud of the work that they put in to have this opportunity and finally get to realize that opportunity and to make it as a team is pretty special and that was their goal.”
Utendorf added that he didn’t know if the goal was to get out, and not necessarily win district, but the seniors apparently had that goal and the Big Green head coach said they backed it up by taking first place.
“I think our two seniors had some ideas of winning it and for them to put up they did try to do that is pretty incredible,” Utendorf said. “Winning that district with those scores, and a 317 is a pretty good round. We knew it was possible it was going to take a great effort and on that day things were right for us to make a run and I was happy as heck that we did that.”
Schnipke led the team with an impressive round of 69, second overall, and Hilvers delivered a round of 80, followed by Keaton Schnipke with an 81 and Leis turned in an 87. Turnwald finished with a 92.
Utendorf said this is a hard-working, confident group that put in the work during the summer to succeed in the fall.
“I think that confidence comes from preparation and these kids were prepared,” Utendorf said. “They took the time to improve their game, even in the season, and to fix some of the things we knew we had to work on to be able to make that run. I think that is where that confidence comes from is the preparation and the work they put in and to finally have a round we knew we were capable of having.”
Utendorf said the senior leadership was vital to the success of the team. Utendorf pointed out that Schnipke had a great season and never finished out of the top five in any of the invitationals the team participated in but coincidentally never was a medalist.
“Their experience was critical to our team’s success and I think both of them took ownership of being the players to rely on for this group,” Utendorf said. “They wanted to accomplish something like this. It is one thing to want it; it is another to put in the work and do it.”
In addition to the senior leadership, Utendorf said another major factor in the team’s success is the camaraderie this groups shares which each other and it is like a family and for a couple literally.
“We talk about family in a lot of sports and in this case some of them are family with Carter and Kenton and some are cousins,” Utendorf said. “Off the course, they are as tight as anybody. When they are not on the course, some have simulators and they are practicing there. They just enjoy hanging out together so it has been a really fun group to be a part of and just hang around with.”