Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
When their shirt collars are high, the St. Mary's boys golf team is going low.
At least, that was the case at the Class 3A/2A/1A District 6 tournament this week.
With no leaderboards at Shield Crest Golf Course in Klamath Falls, the Crusaders developed their own crude, albeit effective, way of communicating.
"I didn't find out about this until after the round," said St. Mary's coach Ryan Allred. "Basically, they decided that if they were even par or better, they'd flip their collars up. It wasn't to be cocky or anything. It was to let each other know how they were playing."
Needless to say, most of the collars were up.
The Crusaders set a school record on the first day, shooting 289 to better the 18-hole scoring mark they set last year by five strokes, and finished off a successful defense of the district title the second day with a 302.
The 591 total served a couple purposes: It showed that St. Mary's clearly is ready to make a serious run at its third straight state championship, and it earned them a nice meal.
Ed Chun, a local restaurant owner whose son, Brandon, is on the team, promised the boys dinner if they broke 600.
No wonder the collars were popped.
St. Mary's will vie for another state title Monday and Tuesday at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell. It will be joined by Rogue River senior Kevin Murphy, the defending individual champion, and his teammates after the Chieftains finished second to the Crusaders at district.
Cascade Christian's Max Davis is in the 3A/2A/1A field as an individual qualifier.
State tournaments for all classifications are the same days.
The 6A and 5A boys will play at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis. North Medford's Joey Walker and South Medford's Noah Brooks are in the 6A tourney, and Ashland's Matt Hedges and Eagle Point's Glenn Linder will compete as 5A individuals.
In 4A boys, also at Emerald Valley, Phoenix's Austin Sawchuk qualified.
In 6A girls at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks, Crater's Daniele Giles will tee it up.
In 4A/3A/2A/1A girls at the Eagle Crest Ridge Course in Redmond, St. Mary's made it in as a team.
Allred is wary about getting ahead of himself as state approaches, but it appears it would be a major upset if a team other than the Crusaders earned the championship trophy.
St. Mary's won state by 26 shots last year and returns all of its scoring players. It also added two freshmen, Josh and Jeremy Wu, who strengthened the team considerably.
Last year's runner-up and third-place teams, Catlin Gabel and Westside Christian, respectively, figure to join Rogue River as the closest pursuers. Catlin Gabel shot 621 in winning its district, and Westside registered a 646. Rogue River was between them at 632.
St. Mary's is in position to challenge the all-classification record of four straight state championships. Medford did it from 1979-82, and Taft did it from 1984-87.
"We're playing the course, we're not playing history or anything like that," said Allred. "I would be remiss to start talking about records. Our goal is to win the state title. It would be fun to win a few in a row, but I don't want to get those guys thinking that far in advance and have them stumble this year."
Among Allred's most taxing duties was coming up with a lineup. He has six players — Dylan Wu, Will Street and Tom Thorndike are the others — who, he said, deserve to play. Five compete each day and the top four scores each day are used.
Allred plans to use No. 1 player Dylan Wu, a junior who has committed to play collegiately for Northwestern, and Street, the team's lone senior, both days. Chun will sit out the first day and play the second. The player with the highest score Monday between Thorndike and twins Josh and Jeremy Wu will be idle on Day 2.
"Those guys aren't making it easy on me," said Allred. "They're all playing well. It's a good problem to have, but it's also tough."
They'll be playing a tough course, too, one Allred said "is not their favorite" because of narrow fairways and slick greens.
In a conversation with Todd O'Neal, the course's general manager, last week, it became clear to Allred the Emerald Valley folks will concoct an angst-inducing setup, with difficult pin placements and thick rough to go with the fast greens.
"He said he really wants to protect par," said Allred. "He doesn't want those guys going low on his course."
In a one-day tournament last month at Emerald Valley, St. Mary's, without Dylan Wu, shot 320, beating out Rogue River by 14 strokes.
Murphy was the medalist with a 76, one stroke better than his brother, David, also a senior.
Murphy, who will play for Oregon State next fall, shot consecutive 5-under-par 67s Monday and Tuesday at district to win by 10 shots over Josh Wu.
Murphy claimed state last year at Quail Valley, shooting a brilliant 29 on the front nine en route to a 66 on Day 2. His 141 total topped runner-up and first-day co-leader Dylan Wu by five strokes.
Murphy has proclaimed himself ready for state.
"I've been practicing a lot lately," he said after the district tournament. "I'm really starting to get focused on my game and getting it all tuned up for state and this summer. I've been putting in a lot of hours and it's definitely helped me. I don't feel rusty like I did earlier this year, and I'm able to make a lot more putts."
Murphy tied for second at state as a sophomore and, as a freshman at Emerald Valley, was second by himself.
"I love playing Emerald Valley," he said. "It's a great course. It'll test all areas of your game. If you're off at all, you're going to pay for it.
"I feel like I'm going to give it (title defense) a really good chance with how I'm playing right now."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org