By SCOTT COTTOS
KALIDA — It’s all about the team for the Kalida Wildcats.
Veteran coach Ken Schnipke’s team entered last week’s Division III boys golf district tournament in Bowling Green aiming for a third consecutive state-tournament bid.
Their No. 1 player, Christian Nartker, came in with a two-over-par 74. Then came a lot of waiting for the 23rd-year coach and the 6-foot-5 senior.
“When we were standing there watching the guys come in at Stone Ridge, he had 74 and I looked up at him and said, ‘Nothing against you, but I’d like to take the team, not an individual,'” Schnipke said. “And he said the same thing. That’s just the way he is. He wanted the team to go. He didn’t want to go by himself.”
The results ended up in Kalida’s favor. Nartker ended up the individual medalist and the Wildcats’ team score of 334 was good for third place and a spot in the state tournament.
Schnipke said his squad is excited about playing in the event, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Northstar Golf Club, near Sunbury.
“They should be (excited),” Schnipke said. “They’re real excited. Hopefully, we can temper that excitement by Friday morning so they can just kind of go out and play.”
The state tournament will cap an outstanding season for the Wildcats, in which they went 13-0 in nine-hole matches, finished first or second in eight invitationals and won the Putnam County League championship.
“I think we exceeded what a lot of people thought we were capable of doing,” Schnipke said.
And they’ve truly done it as teammates who want one another to succeed. Along with Nartker, Kalida’s state-bound team includes juniors Josh Recker, Alec Edelbrock and David Peck and freshman Ryan Klausing. Schnipke said Nartker and Recker have been back and forth as the team’s No. 1 and 2 players, with Klausing at No. 3.
“They get along so well, these guys,” Schnipke said. “… We go to matches, and there’s an app called ‘Golf Clash,’ where you can play each other and they’re playing each other in the vehicle while we’re (traveling). They hang out together; they just get along and have a good time with each other.
“They’re rooting for each other. They don’t care if another one beats them. They’re into the team thing, which is really good to see.”
At the heart of it is Nartker, the team’s only senior.
“He’s done more than you’d ask him to do,” Schnipke said of Nartker being the team’s leader. “Something as little as giving one of the younger players a ride home or to the course, something like that. He’s gone above and beyond what he needed to do. But that’s just the kind of person he is. He’s a really good leader.”
Nartker said he tries to be sure his teammates are as calm and prepared as they can be for an event while also being one of the guys away from the course.
“We’re all pretty good friends, so we all hang out all the time outside of golf to make Taco Bell or McDonald’s runs and stuff like that,” Nartker said. “We’re all pretty comfortable around each other and that makes things a lot easier when it comes to bonding on the course.”
Said Klausing, the team’s lone freshman: “(Nartker) has been great. He’s helped all of us — not only me, but everyone on the team. We had two other freshmen on the JV team and he got us out here in the summer and helped us really improve.
“He encourages us. We’ll have a bad round and he’ll be like, ‘Hey, keep your head up, man. You’ll get it next time.'”
Something Nartker has been trying to do lately is get his teammates familiar with Northstar, a par 72 layout that stretches 7,531 yards. Nartker was a sophomore on the Wildcats team that finished seventh in the state at Northstar two years ago before placing seventh again last year at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
Nartker said Northstar will be the toughest course the Wildcats will have played on this season.
“I’ve been talking to them about the strategy because there are some holes there where if you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re not sure how your game fits to attack that hole, you’ll get in trouble real quick,” he said.
Schnipke said he’s hoping Kalida can crack the top half of the field and finish in the top six.
Nartker said he’s aiming a bit higher.
“My goal is for us to come in the top four,” he said. “I feel like if we play well, we can do that. And then if we come in the top four, we get a banner in the gym. That’s kind of what we’re working for this week, to get ourselves as well prepared as possible and try to get in the top four.”
While Schnipke wants the team to do well, he said enjoying the experience is also important. He said the Wildcats are practicing as usual with a slight exception.
“If anything, I’ve backed off a little bit,” he said. “I’m probably a little strict when it comes to not messing around too much, the ‘don’t mess around on my time, do it on your own’ thing. The last few days I’ve kind of stepped back and let them go a little bit. They’re going to state. They’re excited. I don’t want to take anything away from that. And, really, if you don’t have down what you’re doing now, another day’s not going to make any difference.”
Upper Sandusky junior Brett Montgomery will represent the area in the Division II boys state tournament which also runs Friday and Saturday at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
Montgomery, the medalist at last week’s Division II district tournament at Red Hawk Run, will be looking to better last year’s ninth-place finish at state.