WINONA LAKE — Expectations were high when the NorthWood High School boys golf team headed into the 2014 season.
The 2013 Panthers won seven tournaments, tied for the Northern Lakes Conference title and earned a sectional championship. Two players — seniors Brayden Glaser and Logan Kauffman — were back from that squad this spring.
"We set the standard high," said NorthWood head coach Brad Duerksen. "But other than the Tippecanoe Valley and Wawasee invitationals, we didn't play that well in 18-hole matches."
The Panthers finished third at the NLC tournament and third in the overall NLC standings.
"We knew we were capable," said Duerksen. "For some reason, we were unable to get that to happen all season."
Then it clicked. NorthWood shot a 305 and won the Warsaw Regional at Stonehenge Golf Club for the program's first IHSAA State Finals berth as a team. The Panthers play at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin Tuesday, June 17, and Wednesday, June 18.
"We knew there was something to prove," said Kauffman. "So we all stepped up and did what we had to do."
A strong start fueled the Panthers.
"It gave us confidence," said Duerksen. "When (the players) are confident, they play better."
Playing the back nine first, NorthWood shot a 144. Junior Alec Dutkowski shot a 33 with three birdies and a bogey.
"I drove the ball really well," said Dutkowski. "I was very consistent throughout the whole nine."
The Panther quintet was Glaser (73), Kauffman (75), Dutkowski (75), junior Matt Ely (82) and sophomore Hayden Klotz (83).
"I was just trying to attack all day," said Glaser. “Aim small. Miss small."
Dutkowski birded No. 11, and the Panthers combined to par the tough hole with a bogey and three pars.
"Birdie-ing No. 11 is like getting a shot and a half on the field," said Dutkowski, who transferred in from Elkhart Christian Academy this season.
A year ago, when NorthWood missed out on a State Finals berth by five strokes, the top four players combined to go 9-over-par on No. 11.
"(No. 11) was really the focal point of our practice round," said Duerksen.
The Panthers' practice round at The Legends is scheduled for Monday. They will lean on the knowledge of Glaser, Kauffman, Duerksen and assistant coach Brady Klotz. Glaser and Kauffman played there in the Preview at The Legends tournament. Duerksen has coached there many times, and Klotz competed there as a NorthWood player.
2013-14 is a big year for NorthWood golf. Not only did the boys earn the school's first State Finals berth as a team, Panther girls did the same thing in the fall. Senior Heidi Morganthaler, sophomore Linnzie Richner, freshman Summer Stillson, junior Rachel Beebe, senior Kayla Stankovich and sophomore Baillie Richner placed 15th at The Legends.