Before the 2021 season began, Blair Oaks coach Leroy Bernskoetter said if Jake Closser was able to qualify for state, the Falcon senior didn't want to be the only Blair Oaks golfer competing.
Closser got his wish, and it looks like he'll cap his high school career with a state trophy, too.
"He would love to have more golfers with him so it's a more enjoyable season," Bernskoetter said. "Our goal was to see if we could get to state as a team."
Closser will be joined by first-time state qualifiers Todd Bisges, Dylan Bryan and JJ Quehl at the Class 3 state championships, which will be held today and Tuesday at Crown Pointe Golf Club in Farmington.
The Falcons won the District 3 Tournament team title last Monday with a season-low 328 at Bill & Payne Stewart Golf Course in Springfield, but unlike years past, that didn't automatically advance Blair Oaks as a team to state.
To qualify as a team, the Falcons had to place at least four golfers in the top 18 individuals at districts, a feat they were barely able to accomplish. However, only three other teams in Class 3 were able to do so as well, meaning the Falcons are already in line for a top-four finish as a team at state.
"It's such a tough format," Bernskoetter said. "Now, it's not so bad, since there are only four teams. Then you change your tune, because instead of having eight teams there, it's only four."
Bishop LeBlond, Cape Girardeau: Notre Dame and Westminster Christian join Blair Oaks as the only schools eligible to post a team score at the Class 3 state championships. Bishop LeBlond and Westminster Christian qualified five golfers, while Cape Notre Dame joins Blair Oaks with four state golfers.
"Hopefully it takes the pressure off a little bit," Bernskoetter said. "I just hope they're in the right frame of mind and things go their way on the course."
Closser is a three-time state qualifier for the Falcons. He tied for 33rd in the 2018 Class 2 state championships with a 174 at Meadow Lake Acres Country Club, then he earned all-state honors by tying for seventh place the following year with a 162 at Springfield's Rivercut Golf Course.
"He's not satisfied," Bernskoetter said. "But he's got a state championship in football and a Final Four appearance in basketball. That's quite a résumé."
Closser tied for fourth out of 73 golfers at districts, shooting a 9-over 79. He missed the preseason due to the basketball state playoffs, but after opening with a 48 in his first meet of the spring, Closser never shot lower than a 40 on nine holes and averaged a 79.5 in the Falcons' 18-hole tournaments.
"That's his strength, that he's going to battle until the end," Bernskoetter said.
Bisges, a junior, tied for 11th at districts with a 10-over 81, his lowest 18-hole score of the season.
"A few weeks ago, Todd was really focusing in on getting his score down, not how he hits his shots," Bernskoetter said. "He cleared his mind and did really well."
Bryan, a sophomore, finished 16th at districts with an 83, his second-lowest 18-hole score of the year. Bryan is second behind Closser in scoring average for Blair Oaks this season with an 86.2.
"They knew they had to shoot in the middle-to-low 80s to give themselves a chance," Bernskoetter said. "I look for Dylan to get better."
Quehl, a junior, was the last state qualifier from the district, taking the 18th and final spot with an 85 to make the cut for state by one stroke.
"JJ was sitting there with three holes to go, and I said to him, 'I think you're right at the cut line, don't give in,'" Bernskoetter said. "He parred each of the last three holes."
Blair Oaks' fifth golfer at districts, senior Brady Kicker, tied for 30th with a 93.
"That's the only bad thing, is under the old format, Brady would have gotten to go with us," Bernskoetter said.
It has already been a successful season for Blair Oaks, which won five tournaments, including the Tri-County Conference Tournament earlier this month.
"This one is a special group," Bernskoetter said. "They've had a lot of success, and they've earned it."
As long as the Falcons avoid a disqualification in the next two days, they'll bring home their third boys golf state trophy. Blair Oaks finished second in 2015 and fourth in 2017, both at the Class 2 level.
"I'm very, very proud of them," Bernskoetter said.
Blair Oaks will have some company from the Tri-County Conference at the Class 3 state championships, as Eldon and School of the Osage each have to state qualifiers.
Aidan Wells and Teagen Hull will compete for Eldon, while Zach Krantz and Andrew Bryant will represent Osage.
Krantz and Wells, both seniors, finished in a four-way tie for fourth at the District 3 Tournament with a 9-over 79. Hull, a freshman, tied for eighth with an 80, while Bryant tied for 11th with an 81.
Wells is the only returning state qualifier of the four golfers. He finished 21st overall with a two-day total of 170 in the 2019 Class 2 state championships at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield. Eldon finished fourth as a team at state with a 705 that season.
Krantz and Bryant are Osage's first state qualifiers since Ethan Kline at the 2018 Class 2 state championships.
In addition to receiving all-district honors, all four golfers finished in the top 15 for all-conference honors earlier this month in the Tri-County Conference Tournament at Boonville's Hail Ridge Golf Course. Krantz tied for second place, followed by Hull in fifth, Wells in seventh and Bryant in ninth.