Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

August 18, 2013

Fall preview Bulldog boys ready for "baptism by fire"

Effingham Daily News

---- — Phil Zaccari has coached the St. Anthony Bulldogs to three state golf championships, two runner up finishes and a third-place trophy over the past 12 years.

He's no stranger to turnover and replacing graduated seniors with capable young golfers.

He'll have to repeat that process this year, as four of St. Anthony's top six golfers from its state tournament run in 2012 have graduated. They finished in eighth in Class 1A, shooting a team score of +49.

To achieve the same St. Anthony level of success, it'll be a familiar formula for Zaccari and the Bulldogs.

"What we want to try to do early, it's going to be baptism by fire," Zaccari said. "We set our schedule up where we've played so many invitationals, so many 18 holes so by the time we play those tournaments we're very comfortable in that environment."

St. Anthony plays in three tournaments this upcoming week, starting with its own St. Anthony Invitational Monday and finishing the week at Pleasant Plains upstate in Macomb.

While seniors Joe Powell, Cole Buehnerkemper, Jack Niebrugge and Dalton Anderson have graduated, St. Anthony brings back two of its top two scorers at state.

Junior Garrett Hixenbaugh led the Bulldogs at state, shooting an 81 on the only day at state to lead the team. He's joined by classmate Conner Greene, who carded a 90 for the Bulldogs' fourth best score.

"Conner and Garrett, we're counting on them a lot to fill the shoes of those seniors," Zaccari said. "They're playing pretty well out of the gate."

Nick Wortman and Kyle Britton saw some playing time as juniors in 2012, and now will be counted upon to step up with Greene and Hixenbaugh and help fill out the rotation.

Sophomore Jeff Niebrugge joins his brother Jay on the team after playing baseball in 2012, and being courted to play by the current golfers. Fellow sophomore Jared Hutchison could step into a bigger role after getting bigger over the summer.

"He was starting to come along at the end of last year, he was getting into the upper 80s," Zaccari said. "He's grown a lot over the summer. He's starting to hit the ball with more consistency."

Gus Koester, Nate Schmidt and Sam Wortman round out the junior class with Hixenbaugh and Greene, and will have their own opportunities to seize playing time.

Throughtout the first week of practice, St. Anthony has hit the links and hit them hard. Zaccari has used three big rounds to help him figure out ideal roles for each of his veterans and newcomers.

"We've gone to different courses," he said. "I get to see through those 54 holes who's going to shine. You can find out who your best golfers are going to be, and develop your other ones."

It's an ongoing process for the Bulldogs, but the team could have a definite younger flavor to it in 2013. Even with a young team, the expectations for the three-time state champ are the same, however.

"We've got a pretty good youth movement," Zaccari said. "Our goal is always regionals, make sure we're playing our best there."