One Last Ride: Golf seniors look to conclude high school careers with postseason success

(From left to right) Seniors AJ Wilhelm, Nate Vonderhaar, Luke Attal, and Timmy Hollenbeck watch teammate Daniel Heister tee off in practice.

Sean Speidel | The Chronicle

After breaking records and dominating their way through the regular season, Mason boys golf is poised for a deep run in the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) championship tournament. 

The varsity team is composed of six golfers, all seniors at Mason High School (MHS). Over their four years on the team, the golfers have gotten to know each other very well and learned how to push each other best.

In each of their four seasons, a different Comet has won the title of Greater Miami Conference (GMC) athlete of the year. In 2019, their freshmen year, it was Nate Vonderhaar. AJ Wilhem won in 2020 and Timmy Hollenbeck won in 2021. This season, Wilhelm and Hollenbeck tied for the individual championship, winning Co-GMC athlete of the year honors. Wilhelm said that he credits the team’s success to being able to develop his game with his teammates.

“The last four years growing up together and playing with each other only made us better,” Wilhelm said. “We’re so competitive with each other and it helped us become the team we are now. It elevated everybody’s game to another level.”

Due to the success of the top five golfers, the Mason Golf team was invited to several prestigious tournaments around the state that they hadn’t competed in before. Attal said that he hopes that these opportunities   can continue to benefit the Mason golf program even after the successful senior class graduates.

“I think we built this legacy for the younger generations,” Attal said. “We want them to come up and be able to experience what we got to experience.”

The team’s confidence has slowly risen throughout the season after wins at the competitive Best of Southwest Tournament at Sugar Valley, and the Kiely Cup. 

The Comets finished fifth and sixth in the state tournament in the last two years. Nate Vonderhaar said that because of the team’s depth and experience, they have the confidence to compete with and beat any team in Ohio.

“I feel like in past years we’ve looked up to other teams that we felt inferior to,” Vonderhaar said. “This year I feel like we’re walking side by side with them and know that we can beat them.”

As the season is winding down, the team has lots of momentum coming off of multiple tournament wins. Luke Attal said that towards the beginning of the season, the team was not as consistent and would usually only have 2-3 high finishers, but now the team is starting to peak at the right time to make a postseason run.

“Knowing that everyone on the team can post a good score kind of frees us up,” Attal said.” I’ve started to play better knowing that the guys around me are incredible golfers that you know are going to play well.”

While each golfer strives to be the best on the team, individual accolades are not their goal for the season. Wilhelm said that the team is aiming for  a strong all-around finish at the state tournament rather than having one dominant finisher at the top.

“I think our biggest goal is definitely to win a team state championship rather than someone on our team winning individually,” Wilhelm said. “We’d all want to see us like come together and create history”

The ultimate goal for the seniors is to cap off their high school careers with a state championship victory.

Golf is a very mental sport, and Hollenbeck said that the team needs to stay focused during the final stretch and not allow the stakes of the postseason to affect their play.

“We’ve never won district before so our goal is to win districts this year,” Hollenbeck said. “Winning state this year and putting our name up on a banner would be a dream come true for our last year.”

The team has had many dominant wins this season, including a record-setting 58-stroke margin of victory in the GMC Tournament. Wilhelm said that the team wants to stay consistent and carry their winning momentum into the postseason.

“I think this year our goal is finishing strong,” Wilhelm said. “It’s our senior year so we really want to sprint through that finish line.”

Photo by Sean Speidel