DAYTON — A couple years ago, participation for the Tongue River High School golf programs struggled to break double digits for the boys and girls team combined. This year, that number skyrocketed to 19, a result of the steady build toward one of the best 2A golf schools in the state.
This year marks the highest number of competitors head coach Robert Griffin has overseen in his five years at the helm.
“It’s awesome to have 19 kids out,” Griffin said. “Tongue River golf is moving in the right direction, and so sustaining our momentum from the past years is a big, big goal of ours. That’s when you start build a program.”
After the Lady Eagles won state in 2016, people seemed to take notice. About two-thirds of the golfers on this year’s team are underclassmen, an encouraging sign and something that is likely connected to the school’s recent success.
Last year, the girls team placed second and the boys finished third. This year, Griffin has lofty goals for his teams: a clean sweep of the team and individual state titles.
The achievements are not out of the question. Both teams return all but one of their top golfers from last season and two individuals who finished near the top of the leaderboard.
The boys team lost last year’s 2A state champion Jaren Fritz, whose family moved, but junior Nick Summers should compete for the individual crown. After finishing one stroke off the lead at state last year, Summers hopes to take home the elusive title this year and lead the Eagles to victory as a team. Summers was in the thick of contention at state last year before hitting a shot out of bounds on the 17th hole, resulting in a two-shot penalty. He will use that memory as fuel and motivation this year. Summers said this year feels much different without Fritz.
“We were both neck and neck (last year),” Summers said. “We thought we were both going to tie for first … That was honestly our goal, was to tie.” For the Lady Eagles, top golfer Sadie Koltiska is an example of the program’s growth in recent years. After playing volleyball growing up, she started golf as a freshman with little experience.
Koltiska was part of the 2016 state champion team and vastly improved during her sophomore season, becoming the team’s top golfer and placing sixth at state. Now in her junior year, Koltiska hopes to win state individually and lead her team to that championship crown. She has been working on her long game this season, working with Griffin to change her swing. The team is already more than halfway through its season, which lasts less than six weeks, so there is not much room for error. The golfers have started out relatively slowly, as is the case most years, because Griffin works on players’ swings with the hope that it will improve scores down the road. Griffin has his eyes set on the Lusk Invitational Sept. 7 and 8. If the teams perform well, it should be a great sign for the State meet the following week. The high number of golfers is encouraging for Griffin but makes it tougher for him to work individually with everyone.
“It’s really hard to try and be more efficient,” Griffin said. “To really try and coach them up in a positive way — that’s tough right now.” The increase in participation may cause challenges, but they are good ones to have, with Tongue River on its way to becoming a 2A staple.