By Brenden West Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Following a string of four straight conference championships is difficult to do. For Fulton to continue its streak, coach Mark Speir said it’s going to take a lot more hard work from his golf team than in past years.
“We don’t like to lose,” Speir said. “When you’re the conference champions four years in a row, that’s just what happens. Last year was a bittersweet season for us. We went all the way to the conference finals, and that match came down the the wire. For an almost completely undefeated season and to come back this year, I don’t think the kids’ expectations were as high this year.”
Matt Dail, a pivotal player for the 2011 and 2012 Three Rivers Conference championship teams, returns as a senior to lead Fulton. Lucas Wiebenga — brother of last year’s No. 1 golfer Kyle Wiebenga — and Brett Terrock are both varsity returners. Otherwise, Fulton is looking for a crop of fresh faces to fill some big shoes.
“(Dail) did a lot of work last year to get to this year. He knew he was on target to be our new number one,” Speir said. “We knew that Lucas and Brett were our top three going into the season. Otherwise, it’s been trial by fire.”
Speir added that the team saw 13 freshmen try out last season who “hadn’t picked up a club.” Most of that same group is back in 2013, and the coach praised the early results of Dustin Rowland and Jake Outzen, underclassmen taking on larger roles.
After Monday’s conference loss to Riverdale, it’s impossible for Fulton to duplicate last year’s undefeated run to the finals. But the Steamers coach believes there’s still time to work up from the middle of the pack to the top.
“We’re probably the third-place team in our conference,” Speir said. “That’s where we realize we’ve been, and we realize what we need to do to get back to number one. Losing the kids we lost last year kind of hurts, but all of the kids we have this year have what it takes to make it up.”
In Speir’s mind, realizing a fifth straight title comes down to working hard in practices.
“The type of kids that are on our golf team are the kinds of kids that want to work hard at it,” he said. “They’re the kinds of kids that’ll spend three hours on the course chipping and putting. ... We work a lot on beating teams with our brains first and the ball second.
“If you give us a good golf course and a bad day’s weather, we think we can beat you. That’s just our mentality.”
For now, Speir’s job is to make his golfers focus less on their competition and turn their attention inward. He concluded that if the Steamers can individually focus on the task at hand with every shot, another championship as a team is within reach.