SIKESTON -- All season long, Sikeston's golf team has played as a team. Senior Brandon DeWitt, junior Tanner Fritz, sophomores Jonathan Spence and Matt Bain, and freshman E.C. Atchison have all stepped up in different matches and tournaments to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Fittingly, Sikeston will now end the season the same way it has played this spring -- as a team.
By winning the district match last Monday, the Bulldogs qualified for state as a unit. The five golfers and head coach Rick Oetting will leave for the Rivercut course in Springfield on Saturday to prepare for the tournament, which takes place May 13-14.
"We started the year out with the goal of making the top five in the state," said Oetting. "I still think that is our goal. We would also like to see at least three of the five members shoot in the top 20."
No Sikeston golf team has ever finished in the top five at state. But who knows what this unpredictable group will come up with next?
Sikeston didn't just win the district, they dominated. With a team score of 314, the Bulldogs finished 10 strokes ahead of second place Dexter and 18 ahead of third place Ste. Genevieve on the Eagle Lake course.
"If you're going to peak, that is the prime time to do it," said Oetting. "The team really came together. All year it was one, two or three individuals, but never all four at once. Here all five shot good rounds for the conditions that day."
Winning the district came as a surprise to some, considering how young Sikeston's lineup is. But Oetting wasn't flabbergasted by his team's impressive feat.
"We've got some talent, there's no doubt about that," he explained. "On the other hand, being young means they can fold at critical times. They proved last week that they could handle the pressure and meet the goals we expected them to."
DeWitt is the veteran of the team and has been a key member on the squad since he was a freshman. He recently placed third in the district and has been a district champion in the past.
He is averaging a score of 39 over nine holes. "He has always been the steady rock of the team," said Oetting. "He may not blow the doors off things, but you can always count on Brandon to come in and shoot a good score for the team."
Fritz is tied for the best average on the team at 37.5. He has been to state twice -- as a freshman and sophomore, playing on the Rivercut course last season.
"He's got as much experience as anyone on the team," said Oetting. "He has really developed some leadership qualities this year and has been one of our top players. He has been an inspiration for everyone."
Atchison is tied with Fritz for the best average on the team at 37.5.
"He's as good as anyone on the team," said Oetting. "His strength is his poise. He doesn't let anything get to him and he takes it shot-by-shot. He's really got a good regimen when he's out there. That's a tremendous attitude to have for someone that young."
Spence carries an average of 39 into the state event.
"Jonathan really shot the lights out last year," said Oetting. "This year, he has been a more steady player. We're waiting for him to ignite. He probably has the most potential in the group."
Bain rounds out the team and is averaging 40.5 this year. "Matt has been with us both years and has kind of been on the back burner, just waiting to get his turn," said Oetting. "In the last part of the season, he stepped up and took his role on the team. He has been a steady number five for us."
The five will have their work cut out for them, playing against the top golfers in the state on the unique Rivercut course, which boasts a par 72, 7,066-yard layout. The front is a links style course, with a lot of open areas, grass bunkers and hills. The back side narrows and is filled with steep inclines.
One par 5 on the course is 575 yards with water trouble on the side and in front of the green.
"There are some really tough holes that you have to negotiate over there," said Oetting.
Each day at state, the top four scores from each five-man team will count towards the overall score, giving everybody a chance to contribute. Each player will also be chasing top medal honors along with individuals that qualified without a team.
By finishing second in the district, Dexter will also send its team to state. The Bearcats have qualified for the tournament three years in a row, and missed state by just one stroke four years ago.
They finished sixth as a team last year.
Matt Christian leads the squad with a 38 average, followed by Kyle Christian at 39. Chad Gill, Ryan Jackson and Michael Williams are also members of the team.