Bulldogs boys' golf eyes big finish

Sep. 12—MAHOMET — Depth is paramount to a high school golf team's success.

Talent is important, too.

The Mahomet-Seymour's boys' golf team has both in equal volume as the IHSA postseason approaches in a little more than two weeks.

"That's the biggest strength that any high school golf team could really have is depth," Bulldogs coach David Sebestik said. "If we can get four scores in the 70s any given day, generally that's going to stack up pretty well against your competition."

It's a squad that is already accustomed to claiming trophies this season. The Bulldogs won Monday's Champaign County tournament at Lake of the Woods Golf Course with a collective 301 that topped runner-up Champaign Central by 21 strokes. Junior Reis Claybrooke was the medalist at 70, with senior Leif Olson close behind at 71.

The victory marked the latest in a season that has included wins at the Tiger Kickoff and Danville Invite and a three-team tournament against Centennial and Monticello on Aug. 28.

"With our team last year, we only had one senior in our top six," Sebestik said. "We knew we were going to be relatively young but we were going to gain a lot of experience. Going into this year, I knew returning five of our top six was going to be a major advantage for us because they'd played a lot of these courses before."

The top of the Bulldogs' roster features Claybrooke, Olson and sophomore Kelton Hennesy. Junior Jacob Schoudel, senior Parker Clements and sophomore Cole Thrasher often compete for the team's fourth score.

Claybrooke and Olson anchor the roster. Claybrooke has played at the varsity level in each of his three years on the team while steadily improving and Olson has made a splash after joining the varsity program last season.

"I've grown a lot since freshman year," Claybrooke said. "I've gotten taller, bigger, I hit the ball further. It helps a lot on these courses, some of the difficult courses we play. It just really helps solidify my game as a whole."

Olson competed at the 2022 Class 2A state tournament at Weibring Golf Club and tied with three other golfers for 40th place at 158, 16 strokes off of then-Champaign Central standout Wade Schacht's title-winning round.

The Bulldogs have already seen Weibring's par-71 layout once this season. They carded a collective 299 en route to a second-place finish in the Raider Classic on Aug. 15. Claybrooke was the medalist at 69, with Olson finishing runner-up at 70.

"We were really looking forward to playing there because we know we have some goals to play there at the end of the season," Claybrooke said. "We were just excited to get to know the course a little bit so we could have an advantage later on in the year."

Sebestik — the course pro at Lake of the Woods Golf Course — is able to travel to tournaments with the program's top six players with peace of mind thanks to help from assistant coach Scott Easton.

The program boasts a strong volume of kids on the roster, with 26 golfers ranging from beginners to state qualifiers. Easton stays back with the team's junior varsity roster to hone fundamentals while the varsity team competes.

"Without him, a lot of this wouldn't happen," Sebestik said. "He's kind of the guy behind closed doors that nobody really talks about, but it's a huge impact on our program and what he's done in the last couple of years and what he does for these kids is tremendous."

That the varsity team enjoys competing is likely an understatement.

"I think not making state would kind of make this season a failure," Olson said. "We're hoping to really show that we're here as a team, and I think first is completely within reach."

Claybrooke and Olson feel confident in every aspect of their games as the season crosses its midway point in trying to get M-S back on the state stage. The Bulldogs won a 2010 2A state title.

This group likes to keep it loose off the course when they aren't playing.

"It's a great group of kids," Sebestik said. "This is my overall, 10th or 11th year coaching in this program, and I haven't had a bad group of kids to date, so it's great to be around them."

The 2023 season will likely go down as a success even if they fall short of their lofty goals once the postseason gets going in late September.

"We always make goals based on score and then figure out a score that we think is going to make it out and that we can shoot and we should shoot. Then we post it and we see," Sebestik said. "I think making it to state is definitely what we're capable of and making a strong push for the top three would be outstanding for our team. It's definitely something that we have potential to do."