WICHITA, Kan.—Heights golf coach Austin Sander hadn’t coached any sport in his four years teaching at Wichita Heights. He wasn’t a head coach, assistant coach or assistant to the assistant coach.
Sander is currently wrapping up his first year as head golf coach at Heights, and has led his team to the state tournament. With a score of 305, the Falcons took third at the Sim Park regional. Manhattan won the tournament with a score of 297 and Washburn Rural finished second with a 301.
“I knew I had a good core group coming back,” Sander said. “We just needed to find a couple more players to score for us. And we were able to do that today.”
Hunter Leichner won the individual title for Heights with a blazing 67. In second place individually was Andrew Beckler of Wasburn Rural who shot a 72. Heights’ Caleb Haight finished third with 73.
Sander wasn’t too surprised by the performance of his top two scorers in the regional. He was most pleased by the performance of the other four players on the squad in Zach Pitcher, Luke Gannon, Brandon Johnson and Sage Elassiais.
“Our top two players played really well,” said Sander. “They scored really well today. Our third and fourth players kept it together, which was huge.”
The players Sander referenced were Pitcher, who shot a 45 on the front nine, but backed it up with a 39 on the back nine. The most dramatic improvement came with Johnson when he shot 51 on the front nine, but dropped 11 strokes on the back nine to shoot a 40.
“They struggled on the one side, but kept it together on the other side,” said Sander. “They were able to come in with decent scores to help us as a team and that’s what it takes. It all matters, that’s what I tell the guys every time out.”
Johnson proved that every stroke matters. Without his drop of 11 strokes from the front nine to the back nine, Heights may have missed the cut to go to state. Topeka took fourth with a team score of 316.
Sander has told his team all season that every shot matters. Even if they are facing a short putt for bogey, it still counts.
“We tell them that each shot is the most important shot of the day,” he said.
Leichner and Haight were the face of consistency for the Falcons today. Leichner shot 34 on the front nine and 33 on the back, while Haight shot 36 on the front and 37 on the back.
Top individual qualifiers were Topeka’s Christian Heisler-Cruz with 77 and Max Stucky Halley with 79. Wichita Southeast’s Tyler Clark was the third qualifier as he also shot a 79.
There was a four-way tie for the fourth individual qualifier as Junction City’s Brandon Dillon, Derby’s Kevin Dillon, Topeka’s Dylan Crawford and Dylan Cox all shot 80. All four qualified for the state tournament.