COLUMBUS - This group of Potters are going where no other Potters have gone before.
The East Liverpool golf team will begin play in the Division II state golf tournament on Friday in Columbus, a feat that no other team in school history has achieved.
The Potters earned their state berth by taking first place in the Eastern District tournament last week at Granville Golf Club. East Liverpool shot a 314 to win the tournament by one stroke over St. Clairsville. However, as the last group of Potters made the turn, there hopes of advancing were still in doubt.
"It was really nerve-wracking," East Liverpool coach Ben Wright said. "After nine holes, it wasn't looking too good. As the numbers were coming in, we were running back and forth. Blake (Prince) and Alex (Watson) were on the back nine and we knew what the others had done. We were trying to do the math in our head. Those guys made some big shots for us down the stretch."
Blake Prince finished with a 74 to lead the Potters, followed by Joey Cilone (76), Isaac Davidson (80), Alex Watson (84) and Ryian Burson (87).
Don't expect things to be less stressful this weekend.
The Potters will now tackle the very challenging Scarlet Course at the Ohio State University Golf Club against the best teams from around the state.
Qualifying along with East Liverpool and St. Clairsville are Chagrin Falls, Dayton Oakwood, Canton Central Catholic, Pepper Pike Orange, Kirtland, Kettering Bishop Alter, Chillicothe Unioto, Chesapeake, Wauseon and Bryan.
The 314 score posted by the Potters in their district tournament win was bested by only four teams during district play. Chagrin Falls won the Northeast tournament with a 309 and were followed by Canton Central Catholic (312) and Pepper Pike Orange (313). Dayton Oakwood won the Southwest tournament with a score of 311.
"I've had a few people talk to me about the courses these teams played on compared to ours," Wright said. "Some said ours was harder and some say theirs was. There seems like there's a handful of teams at the top bunched up within a few shots."
The Potters will be one of the youngest teams in the tournament. With only one senior on the squad, the only school younger than East Liverpool is Wauseon.
Wright said the Potters' youth should not be considered a disadvantage.
"The age part doesn't really concern me," Wright said. "Our guys are not new to big tournaments. I'm sure being at the state tournament will bring a new set of nerves, but these guys have been playing in big matches for a while now."
St. Clairsville, along with Canton, Chillicothe and Dayton are the only returning teams from the state tournament in 2011 which was won by Springfield Kenton Ridge.
As far as preparing for their trip to the state's capital, Wright said he has tried to maintain the status quo.
"We're trying to keep things relatively the same for practice," he said. "We've played a few rounds at the (East Liverpool) Country Club and a few at Turkana just to get some different looks. The course we'll be playing on is much longer so we've been trying to work on some of the shots we'll have to play there."
The Potters will get their first look at the Scarlet Course today during a practice round. The top five from each school are permitted to play a round together today, but it won't be a typical practice round according to Wright.
"Normally, we'd hit multiple balls and puts to get a good read on the course," he said. "But, with all the teams on the course the same day, you only get one ball. So, it will be important for us to get as much out of that round as we can."
Wright said the team has been going through each individual hole online to get a better idea of what to expect.
"We don't really know a lot about the course yet," he said. "But, I don't think any of the teams have played on the course before. I know it's significantly longer than anything we've played this year. We'll have to check out the putting when we get down there."
The Scarlet Course opened for play in 1940 and has played host to 10 men's college national championships as well as several U.S. Open qualifiers. In 2006, the course underwent a major restoration project that was overseen by Jack Nicklaus. A par 71 course, the 18-holes measure out to 7,455 yards and has a rating of 76.1.
"The kids are extremely excited to be a part of this," Wright said. "I think they're starting to realize this is something that not many people get to do. I'm hoping they'll have a chance at some point to step back, look around and appreciate what they're a part of. Golf is a sport that doesn't usually get much recognition. Now, everyone at school and in the community is talking about it."
NOTES: The Potters will leave this morning around 8 a.m. from the high school. After a stop for lunch, the team will hit the course at 1 p.m. for their practice round. They will be spending Thursday and Friday evening in Columbus. "There's no way you want to drive back and forth each day," Wright said. "It will make for a fun little road trip." The Scarlet Course was founded by L.W. St. John, Ohio State athletic director from 1912-1947. It was designed by Dr. Alister Mackenzie, a world renowned architect who is best known for his masterpiece, Augusta National.