BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The Fulton Steamers weren’t happy with the way they golfed on Saturday afternoon, shooting 16 strokes more than the previous day.
But you couldn’t tell.
They were soaking it all in, happy to be playing in the second round of the Illinois High School State Golf Championships and finishing off their season with a 7th place team finish.
“This was great. We accomplished all that we wanted to and then a little more and these kids did it with class and dignity,” head coach Kevin Ver Hoeven said. “We’ll look back and say what a fantastic year.”
Senior Andrew Schrader led the efforts on both days, finishing in ninth place as an individual with eight over par through two rounds. That included shooting a 72 on the first day of play.
Schrader was the only Steamer who had played the course before. He qualified for the state meet as an individual as a sophomore and junior, making his third appearance last weekend.
“The experience in the first two years definitely helped. I knew the greens and I knew the course,” Schrader said. “This year actually played the easiest of the three years I’ve been here by a long shot.”
To even get to the second day of golf, the Steamers had to make the cut. On this first day of play, the Steamers came through with the fifth best score of the day, led by Schrader’s 72.
“It felt great,” Schrader said. “When we all turned in our scores we were worried. We were sitting right in that eighth spot and we didn’t know if someone from El Paso was going to turn in a crazy score. Our goal was to make the cut and we were happy with that.”
That included beating Riverdale, an in-conference foe who ended up finishing third in the state. With that goal checked off the list, they hung out together the rest of the night and enjoyed each other’s company.
The Saturday round notched their seventh place finish. Schrader’s 80 was followed by an 86 from Patrick Wiebnga and Ian Wiebenga shot an 88.
Josh VanderPloeg shot a 94 and Alex Hartman a 95. Landon Meyers rounded out the team with an 118.
“Today [Saturday] was a struggle to say the least,” Ian Wiebenga said. “I don’t think any of us played to how we wanted to play or could play, but we still had fun.”
Still, being the seventh place team in the state of Illinois is nothing to be mad about, especially after the season the Steamers had.
This was just the second time in Fulton High School history that the Steamers qualified a full team for state, the last happening in 1982.
“It’s been 37 years since Fulton sent a team to state,” Alex Hartman said. “We’ve sent a lot of individuals to state ... but knowing that you’re part of the second team in school history that’s sent a team to state, it’s a big accomplishment.”
Having others in red and black at Prairie Vista Golf Course helped, too.
“It kind of gave assurance,” Josh VanderPloeg said. “If you had a bad hole or you fell apart, you knew that you had your teammates there and they had your back.”
It was quite the way to send off the pair of seniors, too.
“Coming out here, I wasn’t super worried about going too low or shooting honorable scores,” Hartman said. “It’s my senior season so my only goal was making the cut so we could have the two day meet. We all enjoyed ourselves.”
And Schrader: “I’m pretty happy with how I played overall. Shooting eight over for two days, I’ll take that. It’s a good way to end my career and look forward to college.”
The Steamers had an incredible season, starting off hot and only suffering one regular season loss.
They also handed Riverdale their first Three Rivers Conference loss in the last half decade.
They capped things off by winning regionals, allowing them to advance to sectionals and eventually the state meet.
“I knew at the beginning of the year we had the potential,” Coach Ver Hoeven said. “This was always on our radar but we dipped in the middle of the year. When we came back at regionals with a really good back nine I felt confident. I always knew it was in them, it was just a matter of putting it together.”
It was the best season for him after four years at the helm of the Fulton golf program. All season long, he touted how the Steamers stepped up meet after meet.
“Sometimes high expectations can get to you but the kids rose to the challenge,” Ver Hoeven said. “They’ve been chasing history for two years and they caught it. That’s so rewarding.”
And overall, it was just an incredibly fun time for the athletes.
“Like Coach has been saying all season, leave your footprint, leave a legacy,” Landon Meyers said. “I think we have.”
You can find pictures from the Saturday state meet at photos.clintonherald.com.