GIBSON CITY — It’s not a rinse-and-repeat action Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys’ golfers want to keep up for a third consecutive year.
In 2018, the Falcons won a Class 1A regional championship under coach Guy Percy. It was the program’s first-ever such victory, in fact.
But GCMS ultimately stumbled in the following sectional and sent no one to state. Percy then left the program and was replaced by Devyn Roesch.
Fast forward to the 2019 postseason and the Falcons again made themselves regional titlists.
That, again, was replaced by heartbreak the next week when no GCMS representative made it out of the sectional.
Roesch departed following the season, and three-year Falcons girls’ golf coach Ann Spangler added the Falcons’ boys to her responsibilities.
“The last two years has definitely seen the rise of the boys’ team,” Spangler said. “We have yet to get anybody to state. ... It’s a matter of emphasizing the mental game this year.”
Spangler doesn’t know exactly how her first combined roster will look at this time — she’s unable to see her athletes in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. She does know she only has one returning female at this point, though, meaning the boys will receive plenty of attention.
“The strokes are there. They know how to win regionals,” Spangler said. “It’s a matter of preparing them to mentally get through sectionals. And state is an enormous weight.”
Spangler knows it first-hand. Each of her three daughters represented GCMS at the 1A state tournament at least once in their respective high school careers — Emily in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Katie in 2010 and 2012, and Shannon in 2018.
Now, the elder Spangler wants to guide a different crop of Falcons to that stage.
“Golf is just really important to our family,” Spangler said. “It’s an important thing to keep in the kids’ lives. ... I want it to grow. It seemed foolish not to be the person that stepped up and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take care of them.’”
Spangler oversees a collection of boys that is dealing with a few key graduations.
Bryce Boundy was GCMS’s lowest scorer at the 2019 regional, while Chase Pondel and Cole Maxey were top-three Falcons in the following sectional.
All three were seniors, meaning this club needs at least one new leader.
Depending on how one approaches that word, GCMS boasts a few options.
From a scoring perspective, Connor Engel is the frontrunner. The upcoming junior led the Falcons in nine-hole stroke average last season at 42.4.
“Connor Engel is locked and loaded,” Spangler said. “Very, very focused. He and I have actually discussed his college plans. He is very interested in pursuing golf as a career.”
Spangler hasn’t gotten to see Engel up close as often as she’d like, but she believes the youngster’s scores show “proof of the punch.”
“It’s the focus,” Spangler said. “He comes after school, in season, out of season (to practice). When the COVID virus first got us locked down, his mother commented, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get him out and hit a golf ball somewhere or he’s going to drive me crazy.’”
From an elder statesman perspective on leadership, however, Spangler may turn to someone like Ethan Garard.
The senior-to-be tied for the best GCMS score in the previous sectional and has taken to golf in a big way since a medical issue forced him from football in eighth grade.
“It’s been actually really special,” Garard said of getting to represent the Falcons on the links. “Going into high school, no one, to me, had ever really heard of the golf team or talked much about it. And now we’ve been able to really make it another sport at the top of the list in our school.”
Garard said he’s willing to offer a steady hand to younger teammates both through his play and “a pep talk or a calm down on the course.”
Spangler feels Garard is well-suited for the position.
“He’s on the basketball team, so he’s used to playing in the team format,” Spangler said. “That’s the kind of person we need out there.”
For his part, Garard is happy with Spangler being the latest person tasked with overseeing Falcons boys’ golf.
“After watching her coach the girls’ teams the past couple years and seeing how she’s run practices,” Garard said, “I’m really excited for the drill work and different ideas she’s going to bring.”
Garard feels he and fellow seniors-to-be Braden Roesch and Logan Benningfield, paired with Engel and “two new freshmen” Garard has heard about, can make for a formidable lineup.
Regardless of how the roster pans out, there is one more change to discuss for GCMS golf.
Gibson City-based Railside Golf Club is currently run on a volunteer basis and therefore will cede hosting duties for Falcons events to Saybrook’s Indian Springs Golf Course.
GCMS’s golfers are familiar with the latter layout, so it’s just another new wrinkle with which to contend.“I don’t anticipate a lot of problems moving to that other course,” Spangler said. “It’s OK (in golf) to be not comfortable.”