Dave Oates has a lot to be thankful these days.The Central Catholic principal is grateful to be working at a school that has continued in-person learning during the COVID-19.
As the Crusaders boys golf coach, Oates is enjoying a state tournament run by his team at the end of a season that wasn't guaranteed to finish.
"I'm thrilled that we're still playing," Oates said. "If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season, I would have never thought we'd still be in school at this point or fall sports would still be going on."
A glorious finish to Central's season in this challenging year is possible.
The Crusaders will be one of the title favorites in this weekend's Division III state tournament at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury. First-round action starts Friday morning.
Oates' players won't be awed by the biggest tournament of the season.
Charlie Belden and Kyle Freudeman helped lead Central to back-to-back third-place finishes at state in 2018 and 2019. Alex Milavickas and Gavin Shamblen were on last year's team. The only state newcomer is Austin Haig.
"I'm just thrilled we have an opportunity to compete and win this year when we have a really good shot," Oates said. "I'm just thankful we're going to get to this point in the season. It would have been very disappointing to not have a shot this season with the type of team we have."
Central Catholic's Kyle Freudeman hits his tee shot on the No. 14 hole during a match at Brookside Country Club earlier this season. Freudeman and Belden were medalists in the sectional and district tournaments won by Central. Freudeman shot 65 to edge Belden by one stroke in the sectional at Salem Hills. Belden won last week's district at Tannenhauf with a 78.
The two could contend for medalist honors at state, Freudeman finished sixth last year. Belden tied for 17th.
"I think Kyle is averaging just under 74 and Charlie is just under 75," Oates said. "That's about as low as I've ever had a guy average for the year, especially with the number of tournaments we play. We have got a lot of rounds in."
"They have been really steady. It's really nice to have two guys who can play well and keep themselves around par."
Freudeman, Belden and Milavickas all shot career lows in the sectional tournament. Milavickas was 6-under through 11 holes and finished with a 71.
Despite winning the district title on a tougher Tannenhauf course, Oates walked away knowing his team could play better.
"We had a lot of big numbers and a lot of three-putts which was kind of disappointing," Oates said. "We hit a couple of balls out of bounds. I wasn't happy with some of the mental mistakes they made.
"The bottom line is you go, just play a solid round and we're going to qualify. That's the whole goal."
Central will have to deal with defending state champion Hiland once again. The Hawks had a 1-2-3 finish in a 40-shot win at their district tournament.
"If we play well, I think we have a really good shot," Oates said. "... This year I really think it's us or Hiland. If we both play decent, I don't think anyone can beat us based on the scores I've seen and teams I'm familiar with.
"Hiland has three guys back from last year and we have four back. I'm guessing it will come down to one of us."