Led by Boise State-bound Cole Rueck, senior-dominated Corvallis has a sense of urgency as it pursues the 5A boys golf title this season.
The Spartans, runners-up to Thurston by three strokes in the season-ending 5A tournament last year, have eight seniors on the team, including the top five in their current lineup.
“Last year it was right there for us,” coach Mark Kalmar said. “We finished second and we didn't feel like we put our best product out there. I think this year we all agree that we have some unfinished business. And we want these seniors to go out on top.”
Corvallis graduated their No. 2 player in Zach Montagne, but brought back seniors Rueck and Jaxon Wallis, who were first and third in the lineup last year, respectively. The team's other state scorers – seniors Henry Gold and Vance John – also returned.
The Spartans won the first two Mid-Willamette Conference tournaments this season. They shot a 327 (39 over) to prevail by 34 strokes at Cross Creek Golf Course in Dallas and a 330 (42 over) to win by 18 strokes at the OGA Golf Course in Woodburn.
Rueck was the medalist at both tournaments, shooting a 1-under 71 at Cross Creek and a 4-under 68 at the OGA Course. Wallis was the team's No. 2 finisher both times, following a personal-best 76 with an 84.
Kalmar likes what he has seen so far from his team.
“It's a very senior-heavy team, which just means they're a little more seasoned, and they can work through some of the hiccups that are evident in a round,” he said. “They tend to roll with it a little easier.”
Rueck – who tied for second in the 5A tournament last year, two strokes behind Thurston's Kellen Humphries – is the catalyst.
Rueck has more than held his own as a fixture on the Future Champions of Golf tour. He shot 1-over to win a two-day tournament at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif., in January and tied for fifth at a two-day event at Chambers Bay Golf Course near Tacoma last month.
He opened the high school season March 14 by shooting a 2-under 70 to finish tied for fourth in the 19-team Cougar Invitational at Willamette Valley Country Club, where the Spartans placed 16th against mostly 6A competition.
“Cole is a very unique individual,” Kalmar said of Rueck, the son of Oregon State women's basketball coach Scott Rueck. “It's amazing to me how he can play a course sight-unseen, or maybe once a year, and still shoot as well as he does. I think Boise State is goin to be very happy with him.
Kalmar said that Rueck has the “it factor” around the greens “like no one I have ever seen. He has such soft hands. He's just so reliable to get up and down when he gets around the green. It's uncanny.”
Kalmar was most impressed by Rueck's round Monday in wet, blustery conditions at the OGA Course. Rueck overcame the weather to card six birdies and finish with a 68.
“That was just amazing to me,” Kalmar said.
Corvallis has won eight state championships, the fifth most all-time behind North Medford (10), Lake Oswego (nine), Jesuit (nine) and Stayton (nine). For the Spartans to contend for their first title since going back-to-back in 2010 and 2011, they need to solidify their lineup behind Rueck and Wallis.
Gold and John – who finished 34th and 47th, respectively, in the 5A tournament last year – showed encouraging signs at Cross Creek when both shot personal bests of 90. Senior Colin Smith, playing his first season of competitive golf, has looked promising early.
“It's going to be interesting all year between those three,” Kalmar said. “And there are two more on JV that may push them. Our No. 3 through No. 7 are all pretty similar. We just need two of them to really break out.”