With each match that goes by, the Mingus Union golf team has steadily improved, and on Sept. 12, the team won its matches against Prescott, Mohave and Bradshaw Mountain at Antelope Hills Golf Course and notched its first team qualifier score after shooting a 164.
"I feel, and I think they feel, that just gave them some confidence and some motivation to say, 'hey, we can do this now,'" said head coach Craig Mai. "I'm expecting, over the next couple of weeks, definitely an uptick in everybody's game."
The road there was not without a bump or two. The golf team was supposed to have a match on Tuesday at Prescott Country Club, but weather forced that match to be cancelled, along with any practice the team hoped to get in before golfing against Prescott.
By the time the Marauders were able to get some practice in, it had been six days since they last played. While this understandably could shake up some of the younger players, head coach Craig Mai said that the older golfers are used to that happening and the younger ones will learn to adjust with the more experience they get. In the end, the delay did not affect Mingus that much.
Led by senior Gary Baker, the Marauders top four scores were Baker's 37, senior Ryan Sullivan's 41, senior A.J. Valenzuela's 42 and junior Orlando Machado's 44.
The four scores totaled 164, two strokes under the qualifying 166.
"There were a couple of us who could have played a few strokes better and (we) still got one, we have all the more opportunity to improve through the rest of the season, keep winning matches and get qualifiers," Sullivan said. "It shouldn't be that difficult anymore."
Sullivan shot a qualifying score his first match of the season, but since then has only been on the cusp of getting another qualifier. Through the last few matches, Sullivan has felt as though his overall game has been a bit messy.
"I just think that I need to clean up my game around the greens, and I haven't been hitting shots as solid as I would like," Sullivan said. "So I need to work on my overall game just a little bit and clean some small things up, and I'll be right back in it."
Mai agreed that Sullivan has been having a difficult time with his swing, but believes they may have lucked out and found the problem.
"Yesterday (Sept. 12), we just got lucky and said, 'wait a second, that's not where it's supposed to be (looking down toward his feet),' and I think we fixed it," Mai said.
Mai said that Sullivan continued to practice his swing and improved it, hopefully saving the senior from any more frustrations.
"I know he was excited, because at that point, he was way frustrated because we could not figure out what I the world is going wrong here," Mai said. "This is not the way Ryan Sullivan hits the ball. He's a great ball striker, so finding that little thing got him excited again."
For the second time in as many matches, Baker led the team and medaled with his 37. Not only did he bring home more hardware, but he also picked up his second qualifying score of the season. With two down, the senior needs three more to qualify for state.
"So far I'm pretty happy with how I've progressed, because I started out a little rough and I've gotten better every week, so I'm pretty happy with that," Baker said. "And, I think I've got more improvement to come."
In Baker's first appearance this season, he struggled to bounce back form bad shots and added five penalty strokes to his score. Since then, he has been able to cut back on the penalty strokes and not let mistakes get in his head.
Valenzuela, while being on the edge of earning his first qualifier the past few matches, is doing what the team needs him to do, according to Mai. Mai said that if Valenzuela is able to shoot a 44 or lower, those points will help the Marauders earn another fifth of the bid to state.
"If he can shoot right around 41, 42, it may not be good for individually qualifying, but that would be perfect for us," Mai said. "If we get the team qualified, then he's going to state, regardless. I'd love to see him be able to get down where he's shooting 38, 39 individually as well, but we'll see."
In his debut season for the Marauders, Machado has steadily improved with each match. The skill is there, but what ends up on the scorecard is not quite to that level yet, but Mai said it would be soon enough.
"We've only had one match every week, so I think next week, when we have one on Tuesday, then we have a boom-boom Friday, Saturday tournament," Mai said. "(Then) the following week, match Tuesday, tournament Saturday, he's going to get a ton of competition and I think its going to be way comfortable for him and he's going to start shooting the way that he's playing."
Now Mingus prepares to visit Flagstaff on Sept. 17, followed by the Aguila Invitational, the biggest tournament the team plays in, aside from state. In addition to the two-day trip, the golf course is holding state this year, giving the golfers a measuring stick to see where they are this early in the season.
"It's the most fun," Baker said. "We go Thursday after school; we get to spend two nights there. Not only is the golf fun, but everything else that we do while we're there, its almost like a team bonding type of a thing."Team score: 164
Gary Baker: 37
Ryan Sullivan: 41
A.J. Valenzuela: 42
Orlando Machado: 44
Austin Moffitt: 49