Entering this season, the Alcona boys golf team had one goal in mind: making the state finals.
The Tigers accomplished that goal and secured the school's first berth in the state finals after finishing third in a regional last week.
Alcona's team of five-juniors Walker Kelly, Josh Mead, Dustin Yokom and Lucas Weichel and sophomore Spencer Willingham- will take part in the Division 4 finals at Forest Akers East in East Lansing which starts today and runs through Saturday.
"After last year in districts and regionals, we knew we had a good shot. That's where we set the bar," Alcona coach Jim Bouchard said. "Next year we have another year to build the bar even higher."
With a team featuring four sophomores, Alcona finished third in districts last season, missing out on first place by five strokes. The Tigers went on to finish ninth at their regional, falling short of their goal of making the state finals as only the top three teams from each regional qualify.
Alcona lost Austin Scott to graduation, but returned four starters this year and added Willingham to the mix. The Tigers handily won their district with a team score of 324-28 strokes better than second-place Harbor Springs. All five Alcona golfers finished in the top 15 in scoring and Kelly paced the field with a 77. Mead and Weichel finished right behind him with 79. Yokom was 12th with an 89 and Willingham was 14th with a 91.
The next week at a regional in Traverse City, the Tigers played well again, taking third place with a score of 335, just 19 strokes behind regional winner Suttons Bay and one stroke better than fourth-place Traverse City St. Francis. Kelly's 78 was the fourth-highest score and Mead's 79 was fifth best.
Alcona will have the advantage of being one of 15 teams to qualify and at an event as big as the state finals, there's something to be said for strength in numbers. The Tigers planned to play a practice round on Thursday and compare notes and strategize afterward since the course is new to them.
"I talked to someone (who qualified individually) and he said it was fun, but he wished he could've played with his team," Bouchard said. "They (Alcona's golfers) will be separated, but they're still together. I can go around telling them how someone else is doing and it might help pick them up if they're in a slump.
Regardless of how Alcona fairs this weekend, the future looks bright for the program. All five golfers should return next season with higher expectations after setting a new benchmark for success.
"Obviously everyone we play against is going to be good. It wasn't given to us, we had to work to get here and we don't have to feel overshadowed," Bouchard said. "When you start increasing expectations, it breeds competitiveness and they're going to push each other."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.