By BRETT MARSHALL
Slade Loewen, like many golfers, is always searching for ways to see an improvement in his game.
So when the then Ingalls High School junior won the 2012 Class 1A state tournament, what did he do?
"He bought a new set of irons that he thought would give him a better chance of becoming a better player," said Ingalls coach Dave Novack. "Early this season, he just kind of struggled with them, getting used to the new blade was very difficult."
But Loewen seems to be making the adjustments, better late than never in this case, as was evidenced by his round of 75 on Monday to capture medalist honors at the Kinsley regional tournament.
On a windswept May day a year ago, Loewen shot an 8-over-par 80 at the challenging Highland Golf Club in Hutchinson. Scores were high from the entire field, and given that Loewen's victory was by four shots indicates the difficulty of the Highlands narrow fairways, deep rough and tricky greens.
Two weeks ago, he won the Southern Plains/Iroquois League tournament at Mariah Hills Golf Course in Dodge City before shooting his low round of the season at Kinsley.
"Really, up until the last couple of weeks, we've not any kind of consistent weather in which to practice," Novack said. "I think Slade's one of those kids that when he goes out and just plays for the fun of it, doesn't always do so well. He's really good at buckling down, and has risen to the occasion in the bigger tournaments."
The Telegram's Spring Sports Athlete of the Year in 2012, Loewen will be in the final grouping of the day on Monday, when the 2013 state tees off at Emporia Municipal Golf Course, a course that Loewen has competed on in the past. Loewen, in fact, tied for sixth in the 2011 state tournament at Emporia with a score of 80. In 2010, his freshman season, Loewen shot an 85 at Turkey Creek Golf Course in McPherson to tie for 13th.
Now, he goes after his fourth state medal, with the hopes of repeating his 2012 title.
"We're hoping for some of the same focus and concentration from him that we've seen in the past," Novack said.
Joining Loewen in that final pairing will be Greeley County senior AJ Govert, who captured medalist honors at Big Creek Golf Course in WaKeeney on Monday with a round of 78. Govert, like Loewen, has experience in the state tournament as well, placing 17th a year ago at the Highlands. The Jackrabbit golfer also placed 15th with an 85 in the 2011 state on the same Emporia layout.
Class 2A will be playing nearby at Dodge City's Mariah Hills Golf Course, and both Stanton County and Syracuse teams took top honors at Monday's regional at Prairie Pines Golf Course in Johnson, the Trojans' home course. Stanton County shot a 319, while Syracuse was not far behind at 327, both scores among the best for the respective teams all season.
Stanton County coach Marty Cook said after the regional title that he was looking forward to his team competing on a course that the players are somewhat familiar with, and that the wind conditions could be a factor and an advantage to his Trojans as well as the Bulldogs of coach Rick Mathias.
"I think the players back east will be surprised at how hilly the course is, and if the wind kicks up, it could be to our advantage," Cook said. "We're just happy to have a chance for the whole team to compete. I think we're peaking at the right time."
The Trojans are led by senior Brad Ellis, whose 76 was good for a runner-up individual finish in pacing the Trojans to their 319 total. Syracuse is led by sophomore Cameron Coleman, who fired a 77 at Prairie Pines to propel the Bulldogs into the second team qualifying position. Meade's Buffaloes garnered the third team spot with a 331 total, and were led by Austin Jansonius' even-par 72.
In Class 3A, which will be played at Spring Creek Golf Course in Seneca in northeast Kansas, Cimarron's Bluejays will have three individuals competing — Mitch Chalkley, Stewart Fairbank and Charlie Pfeifer. The Bluejays finished five shots behind second-place Phillipsburg at the 3A regional on Monday on their home course at the Cimarron Golf Club. Scott City and Lakin will be represented by two golfers each. Regional medalist Justin Unruh tops the Scott City twosome, while Marshal Hutchins finished sixth. Lakin's two competing golfers are Wyatt Burnett and Brent Rooney, both of whom shot 87s and occupied the final two individual qualifying spots.
Ulysses' Austin Cantrell is the lone Tigers' golfer who qualified at his own Bentwood Golf Course on Monday. Cantrell will be competing at Cherry Oaks Golf Course in Cheney. Cantrell had to win one of two berths in a four-man playoff after shooting an 80.
In Class 6A, Garden City's Buffaloes will be traveling to the other end of the state, where Austin Swender and Tristain Corrales will compete at Meadowbrook Country Club in Overland Park. Swender, who tied for 16th a year ago at Buffalo Dunes, shot an 83 on Monday at Reflection Ridge Golf Club in Wichita. Corrales shot an 89 to earn his qualifying spot.
State pairings in Scoreboard, Page B2.