WAUKEE, Iowa (BVM) — On Oct. 10, the Waukee boys golf team capped off a decade of domination in Iowa High School Activities Association (IHSAA) Class 4A golf with another state title.
“It’s been a back-to-back-to-back run. It’s been pretty cool,” Waukee coach John Kotz said.
Besides these three straight state titles, the Warriors have also won four other state titles as well as two state runner-up finishes since 2010.
“The assistant coaches, the parents, the school district, the community, all that support along with really devoted players,” Kotz said. “All that together, that whole village is really what produced a solid, consistent, successful program for us.”
Another big part to their success is the tradition that has been setup by the past Warriors teams. It has been passed down to the next group who is expected to continue the tradition.
“It’s just been handing the baton to the next group so that’s put a lot of pressure on the next group to step up, prepare themselves and if they do make it to the state tournament, which they’ve been fortunate enough to do, produce good results,” Kotz said. “Now it’s become tradition. That’s what’s rewarding from a coaching perspective. You’ve generated the enthusiasm and the pride in the program that the kids now, you can just hand it to them.”
This year was the perfect example of that passing of the baton as last year’s state championship team graduated five seniors.
“I think the intent or the thought was we would be competitive,” Kotz said. “We had a little experience coming back but not a lot of maturity.”
It would take some players stepping up to ensure that the Warriors’ tradition of success would continue. Seniors like Jack Starr, who won the individual state title this year, Payton Sandfort and Will Kramer took on leadership roles like the seniors before them.
“I think every year it’s a pretty important part of our success,” Kotz said. “Seniors, they’ve been through the battles, they’ve been there for three or four years and they’ve been battle tested. They’ve had to earn their stripes and they can share that with the younger players.”
The senior leadership was huge in a year that was continuously filled with uncertainty. With COVID-19 there was always the fear of losing the season or not even having a season in the first place in the back of everyone’s mind.
However, in an unexpected way the pandemic did help Waukee. Many of the golfers for the Warriors are multi-sport athletes and during the spring when they would normally be playing their other sports, all they could do was go golfing.
Two of the best examples of that were Brock Seiser, a soccer player, and Payton Sandfort, a basketball player committed to play for the University of Iowa next year.
“He (Seiser) was playing golf all spring,” Kotz said. “Now we have a guy that was a solid jv player last year with no varsity experience. All of a sudden he comes into the fall and he’s good enough now that he’s on varsity easily and pushing our No. 1 golfer for the No. 1 spot.”
“Last spring he (Sandfort) just spent a ton of time on the golf course and when he came into the fall his game had really improved.”
The added practice time for many of the golfers helped to add to Waukee’s already impressive depth.
Also during the summer, the Iowa Junior Golf Tour was still hosting events while following COVID-19 regulations. This allowed the Warriors who competed in those events a chance to get used to what COVID-19 golf events would be like. By the time the season started they were already prepared and knew what to expect when going to meets.
Between the depth they Warriors had, the added practice time and the tradition of success that golfers hold themselves, Waukee was more than ready for the tournament when it started Oct. 9.
After day one, the Warriors had built themselves a 15 stroke lead heading into day two. With such a monstrous lead Kotz and the rest of the coaching staff just reminded their golfers to keep focused and finish strong. The Warriors went above and beyond that by adding a stroke to their lead before the end of the day.
This third straight state title represents the end of an era for Waukee golf. As the Warriors look towards the future and the 2021 season they will do so without their longtime coach.
“I’m ready to hand the reins off to someone else,” Kotz said.
In the spring once the school year is over, Kotz will be retiring from both teaching and golf.
“30 years coaching golf, 26 years here at Waukee. Seven state titles, two state runner-ups is pretty good and I think it’s just time for me to go sailing off into the sunset,” Kotz said.
In a fitting end to an impressive career of coaching Kotz left on a high note and during a time where the future of Waukee golf looks bright.
“We have a very deep team so there’s enough good golfers going to both schools next year that both of them will be very competitive,” Kotz said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see Waukee or Northwest win another state title.”
As Kotz alluded to, Waukee will be splitting up into two high schools starting next year. It is a massive change and one that will take time to get used to but one that Kotz is confident his golfers will be able to navigate.
“Anything that you set out to do you want to do well. Obviously I didn’t do this all by myself, it’s part of building a culture of people that want to work towards a common goal and trying to do year in and year out,” Kotz said. “Hopefully someone steps up and keeps that culture going and does their own thing with it.”
“I hope and wish for the success of both teams next year.”