HARTINGTON — Mike Johnson enters his 22nd season as the head coach of the Cedar Catholic boys golf team and he has seen nothing like this in his career.
“We don’t have a meet until April 9, so it will shorten up the amount of days we have to practice before that,” Johnson said in the event the season resumes. “We usually start late anyway because we don’t always have the best weather up here. But this is new. Years past, we would practice for a day or two and then take three days off because there is snow on the ground, then be able to get back out and you will have your season. Right now, we aren’t going to be able to have our season. We are hoping we do.”
The team can’t do anything organized, but Johnson said his players are going out and playing on their own time when weather permits.
“These guys, they have been here and done this before,” Johnson said. “This would be no different than what we do during the summer: Go out and play as much as you can, when you can and get better.”
Johnson says the 2020 Cedar team has a lot of potential.
“This team has a shot to accomplish a lot of things and it’s really going to stink (if the season is canceled) for the seniors who have put time into this. At least the underclassmen can still play next season,” he said.
For the seniors, this is it.”
One of those seniors, Ted Bengston, said the boys are just going about the normal preparation routine they have gone through time and time again.
“We are in a tough situation right now, we are all preparing like we will have a season,” Bengston said. “We understand that it is a tough decision for the NSAA to make. The whole world is going through a tough time. Hopefully, they’ll keep our best interests in mind,”
Every day things change as the virus spreads across the country and people learn more about it.
“We are starting to understand the severity of this and about the safety of everyone, not just ourselves,” Bengston said. “Obviously, we all want to play and I have been waiting for this my whole life. There’s just not much we can do about it. I want to play, but that’s not as big of an issue as this whole pandemic is.”
IF the season starts…
District C3 may need to be wary of what Johnson brings to the course this season.
Johnson returns seniors Bengston and Mason Schaefer, along with juniors Riley Kuehn, Mack Kuehn and Carsen Becker, while Hartington-Newcastle junior transfer Caden Heithold joins the party.
“Our keys to a successful season are to become very good ball strikers and shoot consistent scores on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “We lost one member of our 2019 State Tournament qualifying team with the graduation of Nolan Klug. We do return five members of that team in Ted, Mason, Riley, Mack and Carsen. We have the potential to be a really good golf team.”
Bengston, Schaefer and Riley Kuehn competed in every varsity meet last year, while Becker and Mack Kuehn split duties at No. 5 a year ago.
“Our biggest strength this season will be our depth,” Johnson said. “Every practice will be like playing in a tournament with this many kids fighting for five spots on varsity.”
The Trojans have plenty of experience to burn and they have plenty of newcomers with talent to look out for.
“I expect Caden Heithold, Charlie Dendinger, Kurtis Kathol, Jay Steffen and Cazden Christensen to add depth to the team and to be fighting for a spot in the top five this spring,” Johnson said. “Going into each season I consider the short game - chipping and putting - to be our biggest weakness. In order to shoot team scores, everybody on the team must work on their short games and improve their short games. Strokes around the green are what wins or loses golf tournaments.”
The Trojans will be one of the Mid-State Conference favorites, along with Norfolk Catholic and Battle Creek, according to Johnson, while the district tournament, to be held at Fairplay in Norfolk, could see those three along with Wisner-Pilger and BRLD battle for supremacy.
The Trojans have won state titles in 2005 and 2009 and have finished in the top two in 2000 and 2004 under Johnson, while they also won a 1995 crown.
“I think we have a really good chance to be very competitive this season,” Johnson said. “I expect us to be one of the top teams in the state this year. We have the ability to compete at every meet, win a lot of meets and compete for a state title as a team.
“Cedar is a golf program that always puts the team score in front of the individual score. For a lot of people golf is looked at as an individual sport with a team component. At Cedar we approach it as a team sport with an individual component. If the team does well, the individual accolades will also come. For over 20 years we have been very competitive as a team.”
The Trojans are scheduled to open the season April 9, with a triangular against Norfolk Catholic and Stanton.