The Central Catholic High School golf team breaks new ground with each swing.
The Raiders became the first Stanislaus District boys team to qualify for the CIF/CGA State Championships since teams were first invited in 2005, and they tee it up Wednesday.
The CC story also sparkles for other reasons. Its six-man lineup features no seniors, three freshmen and sophomore Matthew Robinson. The Raiders should remain dominant for a few years, but they’ll be challenged to top what they’ve done in 2014.
The young Raiders probably will feel butterflies when they join the 54-player, six-team field at San Gabriel Country Club, the oldest golf club in Southern California (founded in 1904). The Raiders shouldn’t stress too much. First-tee jitters usually mean you’re ready to play.
“It is historic for our school. We can talk about this to all the alumni,” Robinson said. “Less than 400 kids go to our school, and six of them are great players.”
Turlock’s Sam Smith qualified for state as an individual and tied for fifth in 2008. Before then, Manteca’s Kevin Wentworth won the individual state title in 1986 and placed fifth in ’85. Which means Central Catholic has joined a select group.
The Raiders, one year after losing the graduated Andrew Bonner (Colorado), figured to be strong with a top-to-bottom lineup steeped in junior golf experience. They lived up to all expectations by placing third at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters, followed by a remarkable runner-up showing at the Northern California Championships at Sierra View Country Club in Roseville.
The only NorCal team to beat Central Catholic was Foothill of Pleasanton, by two strokes. The Modesto team and Foothill will be joined by third-place Dublin at state. Westlake won the CIF/SCGA Southern California title Monday and will be joined Wednesday by SoCal runner-up Rancho Bernardo and third-place Mater Dei.
Clutch play late at NorCals extended the Raiders’ season. They scored two birdies on the into-the-wind 181-yard par-3 17th when Robinson hit to within 3 feet and junior Trey Wesenberg holed a chip. Five of the six delivered pars at the 18th, including a 15-footer by freshman Michael Kelley.
One team the Raiders knocked off was Robert Louis Stevenson of Pebble Beach, which has finished first, third and second at state the last three years. Central Catholic also defeated Granite Bay and Jesuit, the only teams that topped the Raiders at Masters.
“They’re young but mature-minded and fearless,” coach Dave Quintal said. “When you mix youth and experience, you’ve got a powerful game going.”
Robinson, the steadiest of an ultra-steady team, leads Central Catholic with a 36.8-stroke average for nine holes. His 72 last week was instrumental in the Raiders’ advance.
There’s not much decline after Robinson: freshman Nick O’Brien (37.2), junior Mac O’Brien (37.8), Kelley (37.9), freshman Chris Ebster (38.6) and Wesenberg (38.8). Ebster’s 71 anchored the Raiders at Masters at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton.
“We’re all pretty much equal. It gives you peace of mind knowing I don’t have to shoot 67 every day,” Robinson said. “It helps free you up.”
So far, the moment has not overwhelmed Central Catholic, and the Raiders can’t progress any further.
“We’ve made it this far,” Robinson said. “It’ll take some good play, but we know we have it in us (to win).”