May 2—NORMAL — What a difference a year can make.

Danville Area Community College golf coach Terry French has spent the last day trying to get his hearing back after his Jaguars partied and celebrated on the way home from the Weibring Golf Club in Normal on Tuesday after qualifying for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament with a third-place finish in the Central District.

Parkland was first with a three-round score of 849, Illinois Central (882) was second and DACC at 906 was third — four shots ahead of Heartland.

"They had the music blaring the whole way," French said. "It was hard on the ears, but I'm really happy for these kids."

And that's because just 12 months ago, French remembers all too well another ride home from the NJCAA Central District Tournament.

"It was a long, quiet ride home," he said as the Jaguars reflected that day about seeing a trip to Nationals disappear in the final round. "They made that a goal this year and that was certainly on their minds as we drove home that day."

Sophomore Grady Lancaster, who had missed qualifying for nationals last year as an individual by 2 shots, admitted the Jaguars had a little extra fire for this year's tournament.

"We got the experience last year. We had the taste for it and we knew we could it," he said. "We came in with a little chip on our shoulders, because we knew what we could do and we got it done."

But, it wasn't without a little excitement.

DACC opened the three-round tournament with a 307 score on Monday, which was good enough for fourth, four shots behind Rend Lake.

"This team has struggled to get out of the gates every time they have played this year," said French, but he saw something that day that he really liked. "After the round, we had a couple kids that went straight to the driving range and Grady was on the practice green."

And that extra work paid off as the Jaguars shot a second-round score of 292, vaulting them into third place by nine shots over Heartland, which shot a 300 in the second round.

"The morning was huge for us," Lancaster said. "We got off to a good start and we kept it going through the whole day.

"All guys were firing this morning."

French admittedly reminded his team what it meant going into Tuesday's final two rounds.

"I just simply told them that this could be their final tournament at DACC," he said, noting that Tuesday's morning round ended with some very impressive play. "The day started with Luke (Mettemeyer) birdie the first hole and I think we overcame our four shot deficit in the first two or three holes. And then the round ended with Cameron Bergman holing out from the fairway on No. 16 and Blake Arnold nearing made a hole-in-one on No. 17."

Midway through Tuesday's afternoon round it looked like DACC was going to easily advance but things can change quickly.

"I think we ran out of a little gas," French said. "I think they took 10 years off my life down the stretch."

Lancaster said it got a lot closer than all of the players had wanted.

"We knew where we were and we knew we needed to finish strong," said Lancaster, noting the players could keep track with live scoring on their phones. "It got a little rock, but we finished good enough to get it done."

Did last year's experience help them with that?

"Our motto is keep you head down and grind," he said. "That's what we did and it worked.

"It feels really good to get the job done."

It is the first-ever trip to the NJCAA Division II Nationals in Joplin, Mo., for the Jaguars. That tournament is set for May 21-24 at Twin Hills Golf & Country Club.

NJCAA Central District At Weibring Golf Club, Normal

Team scores — 1. Parkland College 276-285-288 — 849. 2. Illinois Central 288-289-305 — 882. 3. Danville Area 307-292-307 — 906. 4. Heartland 308-300-302 — 910. 5. Rend Lake 303-306-311 — 920. 6. Vincennes 319-296-308 — 923. 7. Lewis & Clark 322-319-317 — 958. 8. Lincoln Trail 33—335-322 — 987. 9. Southeastern Illinois 337-355-343 — 1,035.

Medalist — Lucas Park (Parkland) 69-71-71 — 211.

Danville Area (906)

Grand Lancaster '75-73-76 — 224

Cameron Bergman '78-71-76 — 225

Blake Arnold '74-75-78 — 227

Luke Mettemeyer '82-73-77 — 232

Zane Douglas '80-85-85 — 250