Oct. 13, 2004 - It's a serene autumn afternoon in Pima County at the Golf Club at Vistoso. In the quiet moments of calm before the Ironwood Ridge High School's boys golf team storms onto the practice green, two of the Northwest's top high school golfers methodically work on their putting.
With their respective teams nowhere in sight, Steffen Hartwig of Mountain View High School and Kyle Kelch of Ironwood Ridge tirelessly guide ball after ball into a waiting hole on opposite sides of the green. The two team leaders never offer each other a greeting, barely even share a glance and rarely even take the time to look up to take in their surroundings.
Kelch is the first from the Nighthawks to arrive at the team's practice on this Friday afternoon, showing up some 20 minutes early to work on his putting. Hartwig's squad has been given the day off, which doesn't stop the senior from putting in more than two hours of practice anyway.
The Mountain View boys golf teamis just one of the squads in the golf-crazed Northwest with its eyes on the approaching regional and state tournaments.
Every team from the Northwest will be competing at the regional tournament scheduled for Oct. 25 and 26. Of the 14 teams competing at the 5A level, including Mountain View and Canyon del Oro, six will advance to the state tournament to be held a week later Nov. 1 and 2. The two top scorers from teams who do not qualify for the state tourney will be given a bid as well.
Ever since Hartwig began competing on the links at the age of 10, golf has been life. Shortly after graduating in May 2005, the senior with the smooth, fluid swing, will attempt to officially make golf his life when he aims to land on the Tucson Professional Tour. Professional competition is in his blood, literally. Before moving his family to the United States eight years ago, Hartwig's father was a professional soccer player in Germany.
The unassuming Hartwig, however, doesn't talk about where he will be in one, five or 10 years. For now he is trying to focus on the task at hand, advancing himself and his team to a place that has eluded them for six years, the state playoffs.
"This is the best team Mountain View has ever had," said Hartwig who knows the Mountain Lions will need to play their best golf to compete with perennial powerhouses such as Salpointe, something his squad doesn't always do. "Sometimes we just don't play up to our potential."
Despite its strong play of late, Mountain View has dropped its last three matches all by two strokes. The lack of wins doesn't concern the school's No. 1 player.
"We're hoping to get it together for regionals," said Hartwig.
The senior isn't alone. Joining him on the course is another team leader and senior Chris Robinson. The senior duo will lead Mountain View to the regional tournament that will be held at Las Colinas Golf Club in Queen Creek. Getting away from its home course may be just what Mountain View, which has inexplicably faltered at its home course, Tucson National, needs.
"For what ever reason we have struggled at home," said Mountain View head coach Josh Keck, "We can't figure it out."
On the road is where Mountain View has done some of its best work. Behind Hartwig, the Mountain Lions took a second place at the Buckeye Invitational against some formidable opponents from Phoenix.
Standing in Hartwig's path to a 5A southern regional and state championship will be a tough Canyon del Oro squad. Led by juniors Jonathan Lamana and Kevin Werbylo and senior Peter McLaughlin, the Dorados are looking to make a serious run through the regionals and into the state tourney. Behind the trio is a corps of players that are consistently and solidly shooting in low 40s, per a nine-hole course.
"I think they are very good," said CDO head coach, Leif Erikson, of his team's chances in regionals. "We are planning to go to state, but this is golf and you just never know what will happen."
The strength of Erikson's squad lies in smart course management and quality ball striking. Where the Dorados get in trouble is in their driving accuracy, said Erikson of the needs his team must address to be successful in post-season play.
The 4A Region has a different look to it. Where Mountain View has been fighting to stay above water at home, Kelch and Ironwood Ridge have a battle on their hands as well. A preseason favorite to win the regional for the third consecutive year, Ironwood hasn't lived up to its potential this season.
"We're not where we want to be," said Ironwood Ridge head coach Dan Likos. The Nighthawks basically return the same lineup from last season's region winning squad.
With seniors Jakob McKinley and Kelch being joined by newcomer Jeff Hultman, Ironwood Ridge can always be counted on as one of the toughest Southern Arizona schools to beat.
Kelch and McKinley head a deep Ironwood team that knows how to win. In 2002 Kelch won the individual regional championship. A year later, McKinley took home the same honor.
"Hopefully we're saving it up for regionals," said Hultman, a transfer from Indiana.
Even with its early season stumbles, Ironwood has picked up its play as of late and is working toward solving the mental confidence that has plagued the team this year, said Likos.
"We have the potential," said Kelch. "There's no reason why we can't win if we show up and play the way we can."
Ironwood will get a preview of the 4A southern regionals, Oct. 16, when the Nighthawks travel to Nogales to compete at Kino Springs Golf Club, the site of this year's tournament.
Across I-10 at Marana High School lies the Northwest's other 4A golf squad. Where Ironwood Ridge is struggling to live up to its high expectations, Marana's young squad is attempting to harness its potential.
"We're usually in it," said assistant coach Peter Murphy of his team's close calls this year. Although reaching the state tournament as a team may be a stretch for the Tigers, the possibility to "sneak" a few individual golfers into states, isn't impossible, said Murphy.
Marana's state hopes will come from juniors Josh Honea and Michael Duke and sophomore Jeff Kartchner. Murphy likes the continued improvement he sees in his club.
"Every match our scores go down," said the coach. "And that's the most important thing."
The future is bright for Marana golf, however. This year the Tigers had 28 students try out for the team, which has since been whittled down to 11 players.
The Southern Arizona regional tournament for both 5A and 4A will tee off Oct. 25 and conclude Oct. 26. CDO and Mountain View will head to the 5A regionals held at Las Colinas Golf Course in Queen Creek while Ironwood and Marana will travel south to Nogales to compete in the 4A tourney at Kino Springs Golf Club.