The Saint Ignatius Golf program has been blessed with riches rarely seen in the lengthy history of the Golf Cats.
The Wildcats are fortunate to have a stockpile of talented golfers in their ranks, to an extent that most other programs do not enjoy.
For evidence, simply gaze upon the Varsity Gold Wildcats. In years past, Tom Beach's team was designated as JV Gold. This season, the coaching staff decided to rename the squad as Varsity Gold, due to the talent in the program.
Based on the scores all season long, you'd think that Beach's boys were a varsity outfit. A talented group of humble young men, these Wildcats did not always enjoy the spotlight of playing on the top team, and may not have the opportunity to feel the limelight in the postseason. Yet, their athletic feats have not gone unnoticed, to those inside and outside of Wildcat High.
The Gold Cats enjoyed one last moment in the sun this season on Sunday. Competing at the Midwest Prep Classic, hosted by Erie Cathedral Prep, the Wildcats thrived. The team tallied a third-place effort of 326, defeating a pair of varsity teams and several "B" teams and JV clubs.
On a solid day for the Wildcats, Liam Doyle shined the brightest. The senior carded a score of 77, capping off a great regular season for the veteran with a fourth-place individual effort. Doyle has been a great presence on the team this year and enjoyed many highlights, including a magnificent hole-in-one, an experience he won't soon forget. Doyle is one of just three Wildcats to accomplish the rare feat.
Junior MJ Myers finished as the Wildcats' No. 2 man and tied for 7th overall. Myers experienced a nice junior season, and is sure to improve with hard work ethic over the offseason.
Michael O'Leary and Michael Van Etten completed the Saint Ignatius team scores with matching tallies of 84. O'Leary and Van Etten were staples for the Wildcats all season long. The sophomore and junior are bright young men with good futures ahead of them on and off the course.
John Thompson rounded out the Wildcats on Sunday, recording a 95 for the day. The sophomore showed promise in 2020 and is sure to be a golfer to watch in 2021.
Looking at the Gold Cats as a whole, there is plenty to be proud of.
Beach's boys excelled as a varsity team, competing with the best the area and the state had to offer.
"When I first began nine years ago, we were mostly playing dual matches. We would do really well with dual matches. We were undefeated my first 4-5 years," Beach began. "But we don't play in many anymore because we're playing in a lot of varsity tournaments, which is a shift for us, and a quite positive one. It's led to a lot of success. Kids who were in the varsity program vying for spots in the top 5-6 get a chance to play in competitive golf matches on good courses. It's enhanced the whole program."
One youngster who enjoyed a year to remember with the Gold Cats was Julian Dugan.
The freshman shined all year but caught fire at season's end, recording a marvelous 67 at the Bishop Watterson Invitational. The team's leader won't soon forget that day.
"Watching Julian Dugan, a freshman, shoot nearly a school record for an 18-hole round of 67 last week was extraordinary, in and of itself, but so were his teammates' reactions, especially Sean Hoagland's," says Coach Beach. "Sean is a transfer and doesn't know our program that well or many kids. But as soon as Julian finished the round, Sean was right there and congratulated him. He knew the record of 66 and told Julian how close he was.
"Julian couldn't stop smiling, he said his cheeks hurt he was smiling so much. That was a gift Sean gave him, an affirmation that he belonged on the team and that what he'd done was a gift to the team and the others, not just his own accomplishment. I'll remember that especially from this year."
Positive memories abounded this year, but one fun aspect was often missing: van rides.
Due to COVID, parents often drove golfers or the players drove themselves, leading to significantly fewer van rides.
"Coaching golf is wonderful, though different from a lot of other sports, in that you're not seeing every athlete doing their activity at once. You're visiting with them as you go through the day, which has its own merits and is delightful. But in the van ride, they're all together," says Beach. "I could only take 3 boys this year because of COVID, unlike the usual 6, but they have long, sustained conversations with each other, which is amazing. They say all kinds of things, most of them supportive and delightful. I've missed that. We've had the only two van rides in the last week and a half, so that's been great."
Another difficult aspect is saying goodbye to the seniors.
The Gold Cats featured several seniors, many of whom endeared themselves to Beach and the Wildcats with their kindness, leadership, and poise.
"We've had a great group of seniors, many of whom have played with me. They've been battling for some positions on varsity, and having seniors around on a Gold Varsity team is a gift," says Beach. "They bring a lot of seriousness about their approaches, and they know how to deal with the inevitable adversities that golf presents: Difficult putting days, golf courses that are difficult, new, or not fairly organized. They are good at talking with the other boys about helping them with what to do. Our seniors have been great."
And the lone downside of having so much talent is that everyone can't compete in the postseason.
For several seniors, the season will end before Columbus, which, without a doubt, is heartbreaking for the young men. If the State Tournament were decided by 10 golfers rather than 5 men, the Wildcats would be the unquestioned favorites.
But the Wildcats are blessed to have gracious and humble young men on the team.
"On most golf teams, each of my six would be in the top varsity six of most Division I programs. It's both a wonderful thing and a very difficult thing, especially for our seniors," Beach says. "Martin, Doyle, Hoagland, and Longano – any one of them could be the No. 1 for significantly good golf programs. It's difficult when we have to choose guys for the postseason, because every player who plays well, senior or not, needs to be the ones who make the Sectional tournament. A couple of seniors won't be able to play on that Sectional team, which is a heartbreak for me personally, but it's a necessary part of the sport. Their grace for participating and battling it out and accepting the results for what they are has been pretty great. Credit to them."
The Varsity Blue team will open postseason play with the Sectional Tournament on Monday, October 5 at Sweetbriar in Avon Lake.