In three years as boys’ golf head coach at Estrella Foothills High School, Garth Benson has led the Wolves to two Division II, Section III championship titles.
They won the section championship again this year with a roster featuring three sophomores. The trio improved immensely since August, helping the Wolves become state tournament contenders.
“For those three to come in and improve like they did and put themselves in a position to possibly qualify for state was huge for those kids,” Benson said.
Benson built his roster around seniors Zack Robinson and Thomas Flippen. Robinson is a two-time qualifier for the individual state tournament, he qualified again this season.
Beyond the two seniors, the five-man varsity lineup was a question mark, at the beginning of the season.
“Outside of Zack and Tomas, nobody else had played varsity golf,” Benson said.
In stepped Markus Sund, Logan Malmevik and Tyler Narramore, the three underclassmen who snatched the remaining roster spots and wowed their head along the way.
Collectively, Estrella Foothills’ three sophomores and two proven seniors teamed up for a second consecutive section championship.
The season ended Oct. 22, just short of the state competition. Estrella Foothills finished third out of eight teams in a “play in” competition; only the top two advanced to the state tournament.
Despite the sudden finish to the season, Benson viewed the future of his program. Out of 80 total golfers at the play-in, Malmevik finished in 10th place, shooting an 81. Sund tied for 12th with an 83, and Narramore was right behind, shooting an 85 for 14th place.
The upperclassmen did not fare as well.
“Both of our seniors,” Benson said, “they’re the reason we were in this position and why we were able to win the section for a second straight year. They just had a bad day.”
This was the first year that the Arizona Interscholastic Association used a play-in round.
Until recently, all section champions received automatic bids to the state tournament.
Last year, the rules were tweaked to include just the top 12 teams in the state to appear in the tournament. So, despite winning the section last fall, the Wolves were ranked No. 13, falling one spot short of a state tournament appearance.
Benson said he enjoyed the newly-implemented format of this year’s tournament, as it gave the teams who fell out of the top rankings something to continue to play for.
Though their dreams of appearing at team state vanished, the Wolves have turned their attention to Robinson’s participation in the individual tournament. He qualified for the state tournament based on the average of his scores over the season.
The results of the Oct. 28-29 state tournament at the Tucson National Golf Course were not available at press time.
Benson was proud to cite the rich history of golf at Estrella Foothills. The boys' team was state runner-up in 2014, and finished third the year before. Sarah Freeman captured the school’s only golf state title in 2007. The coach noted the school has had 10 10 individual state medalists.
“We’ve had a real strong golf tradition,” Benson said. “There has been a lot with the history of this program. It’s good to see the success coming back.”