by Andrew Stark
It wasn’t that the Ardrey Kell boys golf team needed extra motivation. After all, entering the 2012 season, the Knights were already coming off their best year in school history after winning the Southwestern 4A conference championship for the first time and finishing third in the state.
But coach Charlie Mikesell stumbled upon a way to raise the competition among his players to a heightened level when he was introduced to the ladder scoring system by Knights girls coach Bart Whitney. Mikesell loved that the system instantly raised the level of competitiveness on his team.
He immediately adopted it.
“It has caused a lot of long, sleepless nights,” said junior Taylor Cullen. “There’s always pressure on us, and it makes us want to beat each other every time we step on the course.”
Mikesell said the ladder system, which keeps players’ scores from each event in a spreadsheet and ranks the golfers accordingly, allows players to know exactly where they stand and, most important to the players, which six golfers will be competing in match-play events.
“The ladder has made it super-competitive within the team,” Mikesell said. “These guys want to beat each other more than anything else. But when it comes to the match, they come together as a team.”
The competition is fierce on a team with just three strokes separating its top six golfers, and each player is capable of stepping up at any given match.
For example, on March 14 against Myers Park, which finished second in the state last season and is one of the Knights’ biggest rivals, sophomore Nick Fedchock (fifth on the team with a 39.78 average) put his approach shot within a couple feet of the hole to secure the 146-149 Knights victory.
“Nick didn’t play any matches last year,” said Mikesell. “But he has come up big for us this year. He has come out and turned it on.”
And he isn’t the only one.
Against Providence during a 157-177 victory on April 18, it was senior Andrew Klasing who fired a match-low 35 and secured Ardrey Kell’s second consecutive conference championship and 19th consecutive regular-season win, a total that spans three seasons.
“We have so many good players and players with experience that we know everyone is capable,” said senior Winthrop recruit Mitch Schneider. “We never know when we need to be ready, so we all play our best.”
Schneider is a three-time all-conference golfer who’s second on the team with a 37.11 nine-hole average.
“It means a lot to me that we finish out this year on a high note,” Schneider said. “It would mean a lot to the seniors and to the younger guys who will carry on the tradition of AK golf.”
Klasing, the Knights’ third-lowest scorer at 38.0, is a Central Alabama Community College recruit. In the regional championship during his sophomore year, Klasing fired a match-low 64 to help earn him the South Charlotte Weekly Boys Golfer of the Year in 2010.
Aaron Britt, another senior, is fourth with a 39.75 average. Mikesell said Britt worked hard to even make the team at first but has transformed his game into a top contributor.
As the top seniors on the team, Schneider, Klasing and Britt know this is their last crack at a state championship – and probably the best shot they’ve ever had.
“Man, it would just mean the world to me,” Schneider said. “We have worked so hard to get where we are, and to have it all come together would be amazing.”
The Knights have already defeated the two teams that finished ahead of them in the state tournament last year – Myers Park and Raleigh Leesville Road – but Mikesell won’t let their imagination wander too far off course.
“It would be a phenomenal capstone to the seniors’ careers,” Mikesell said. “If we have the opportunity to compete in the state tournament and do something special, it would just be great for them and for showing the younger guys how much work it takes.
“A lot of people don’t realize the actual practice these guys put in at the range and at the putting green. It’s very systematic. They’re not just going out there and hitting balls for 30 minutes; there’s a disciplined regimen they follow.”
While the seniors have been the heart and soul of the Knights, others will be asked to carry the load next year. Sophomore Hunter Oxford is the Knights’ low scorer, boasting a 36.70 average. Freshman Mark Capecci (39.90) has climbed to sixth on the team, and Cullen (40.40) is seventh.
With a wealth of talent on the roster, it’s easy to see the Knights among the favorites to win a state championship, but Mikesell has his team focused on getting better each day.
“We all have one goal in mind, and that’s walking away as champions and adding to the tradition of AK golf,” Britt said. “I hope that we are setting good examples, as far as how hard it is to get to the state tournament.”
Schneider said that he’d like nothing more than to win the state championship, and last year’s good showing has fueled him.
“Getting there last year and finishing in the top three was really exciting for us, but it let us know how bad we wanted to get back,” Schneider said. “We got a little taste last year, but we want to get back and win it this time.”