by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Hudson third-year head boys golf coach Dave Kurtz remembers it well.
After finishing the 2015 district tournament, Dave Kurtz and his players had the long journey home from Hinckley to Hudson.
"Last year's van ride was just weird," the coach said. "There was not one word said the whole way. There were guys who felt they let the team down."
So why was the mood so somber?
The Explorers finished eighth and did not advance to the state tournament, which was their final destination in 2014. The top four teams advanced to the state competition.
Fortunately, the 2016 van ride from Hinckley proved to be far less depressing.
That's because Hudson is back on the grand stage after a one-year hiatus.
The Explorers qualified for the state competition for the third time since 2004 after finishing third with a score of 308 at a district tournament Oct. 10 at Pine Hills Golf Club in Hinckley.
Green won the competition with a score of 296. Walsh Jesuit took second with a 301.
Also qualifying for the state tournament was Boardman (308).
Hudson, which played the back nine first, edged out Boardman for the third spot on a fifth-man tiebreaker.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Dave Kurtz's team had all kinds of issues.
The Explorers shot a subpar 321 en route to the Suburban League National Conference title at J.E. Good Park Golf Course in Akron.
Dave Kurtz certainly believes his players can still fine-tune a few things.
Nonetheless, he also couldn't hide his elation to see his senior-oriented group reach the state meet one more time.
"It has been a pretty good stretch for them," Hudson head coach Dave Kurtz said. "They've won the conference three times and they've gotten to states twice."
Green junior Miles Demuesy and Boardman's Cole Christman shared medalist honors with a score of 68. A total of 121 golfers competed.
Senior Will Kurtz, who was the lone Hudson player to reach the 2015 state tournament, led the Explorers with a fifth-place score of 72. The reigning state champion shared fifth place with Wooster senior Anthony Panepento.
Things didn't look promising for Will Kurtz during the early stages.
"Will was four over through 11," Dave Kurtz said. "He doubled his 11th hole. He was pretty frustrated because he was not quite right. He wasn't hitting the way he wants to."
But the senior standout was able to flip a switch under pressure.
"I told Will not to worry about the other guys and just play like a state champion," Dave Kurtz said. "He was three under after that."
A rare eagle got Will Kurtz going after a slow start.
"He had the shot of the tournament," Dave Kurtz said. "He had been struggling with his irons, but he hit his second shot about 185, 190 yards on No. 7.
"It landed seven or eight feet away from the hole and he made his eagle putt. That was a big confidence boost."
Senior Dave Sexton was next for Hudson after finishing in an eight-way tie for 16th with a score of 76.
"Dave hit one bad shot that I saw," Dave Kurtz said. "He kept hitting fairways and greens. He had an eagle putt on the seventh hole and was dead on. He left it about a foot short. Dave has been our most consistent player all year."
Seniors Johnny Merrill and Jake Marous finished in a tie with six other players for 44th (80).
Merrill may have been the most downtrodden player during last year's ride home from Hinckley.
"Johnny had a horrible round last year," Dave Kurtz said. "He wanted some redemption and he sure got it. He was six over after 10.
"On No. 6, he hit a beautiful tee shot and then hit a wedge about 10 free from the hole. He made the birdie and that gave him some confidence."
Marous hadn't been a factor in the team scoring in recent weeks. He certainly was in Hinckley.
"Jake hadn't played a match in three weeks," Dave Kurtz said. "He hadn't been swinging a club with that much confidence.
"During practice the other day, he was focused and locked in, so I had to play him. He kept the ball in play.
"We had to have that score because the fifth-place score was 309 [Wooster]."
Senior Nolan Laughlin, who finished in a five-way tie for 80th, shot an 85 to break the tie with Boardman. Laughlin's score was better than Boardman's fifth man.
"Nolan struggled all day," Dave Kurtz said. "After 10 holes, I knew his score wasn't going to count for the low four. He was frustrated and feeling down. To his credit, he hung in there and made two birdies on the back nine."
Dave Kurtz believes starting on the back nine was a blessing for his players.
"The back nine was much tougher than the front nine," he said. "We got off to a slow start. I believe our score was 158 after the first nine."
The Division I state tournament is scheduled to take place Oct. 21 and 22 at The Ohio State University's Scarlet Course in Columbus. The Explorers finished 10th at the 2014 state tournament.
"We're going to have a little bit of fun," Dave Kurtz said. "We'll do some things to lighten things up.
"Will has a chance to win again, but he has to play better. He's hanging in there on guts and savvy. Dave has a good shot of making the podium. We're not going there just to show up."