On some days over the past four years, Janesville Parker’s quartet of senior boys golfers always seemed destined to play at the WIAA state tournament.
At other times during that stretch, it felt like playing at University Ridge simply was never meant to be.
The Vikings—especially seniors Matt Zimmerman, Michael Henry, Nik Sitter and Spencer Orley—experienced close calls, both as a team and as individuals.
They set school records and played some of the best team golf in city history.
And they went through stretches where it must have felt like they might never play that well again.
It’s been the kind of journey that forges a brotherhood, and fittingly, that quartet—along with sophomore Kadin Kleman—have many familial nicknames for each other.
And this week, their journey will end where they feel like it always should have—with a pair of rounds at University Ridge.
“We’ve been wanting this for a while—ever since we were young,” said Zimmerman, the team’s No. 1 player who is bound for Viterbo University. “All of us four seniors have been playing together since we were in middle school.
“It means a lot to be there as a team. That has always been the ultimate goal.”
The stage was set when Zimmerman, Henry and Sitter were all part of Parker’s varsity lineup when they were freshmen in 2015.
Parker shot 326 at sectionals that year and wound up just four shots away from playing at state.
The three of them had three more years to play, however, so qualifying for state at some point would be a mere formality. Right?
“There were definitely disappointments,” Henry said. “We were close that year and then were relatively close the next two years.”
In 2016, Henry, Zimmerman and Sitter each posted scores of 80 or 81 at sectionals, but Orley—also then a sophomore—was playing in his first sectional, and the Vikings had no upperclassmen. They missed out on state by 18 strokes.
Parker was a little more seasoned a year ago but struggled at Geneva National’s Trevino Course and missed by 16 strokes.
There were individual near-misses, as well.
Zimmerman was one stroke out of a playoff for an individual state qualification last season. Zimmerman, Henry and Sitter were all within three strokes of the final individual qualifying spot as sophomores.
“We’ve been waiting four years,” Sitter said. “We’ve always thought this was kind of our year, so this is pretty exciting.
“From staying after practice to doing team putting drills, we’re big team guys. We hang out outside of the sport, too, which really makes it cool. I can see these guys being my lifelong friends.”
Orley said he met his senior teammates as far back as when he was 7 years old, and since then they’ve become like brothers—playing golf during the summer and hanging out and practicing together throughout the winter.
“We’ve always been close,” Orley said. “We’ve been friends a long time. We’re not just playing for ourselves, but we’re playing for the whole team.”
Having spent so much time together, it’s no wonder the Vikings have developed some familial nicknames that extend beyond a brotherly feeling.
Zimmerman, Kleman said, is considered the team dad.
“He lifts everyone up,” Kleman said. “But he’s also the strict, responsible one that kind of keeps us in line.”
Fittingly, Zimmerman calls Kleman—a sophomore and the varsity team’s lone non-senior—“our son.”
Henry, as a Parker valedictorian, is considered the brains of the operation.
Orley, Henry said, at least somewhat jokingly, is the grandpa. And Kleman said Sitter is the easy-going one of the bunch.
“We have a wide variety of personalities, hairstyles, shoes,” Henry said.
“A family,” Kleman said. “It’s a brotherly bond between everyone.”
Roller coaster season
There were certainly times this spring Vikings team needed to lean on each other.
Early on, though, it seemed like they were in cruise control.
Zimmerman, Orley, Sitter and Kleman combined to shoot 301 in the team’s very first round of the year.
Zimmerman was medalist and Parker shot 321 in the Monona Grove Invitational shortly thereafter.
And the same aforementioned foursome—Henry was traveling for much of the early part of the season—shot 294 in the first round of the Tri-City tournament at Glen Erin to set a new program record.
“It’s been quite the roller coaster,” Orley said. “We started out amazing and then had a few rough patches. It got to us. We were playing great, and we wanted to keep that up and just couldn’t. It got in our heads.”
The Vikings’ scores went in the wrong direction.
And in a regional back at Geneva National, they shot 344 to finish third, not exactly a comfortable finish when the top four teams advance to sectionals, but just the top two from there go to state.
“You can’t stay that high the whole year, so we tried to prepare for that. But we knew we’d be capable of shooting low again. Sam (first-year coach Sam Van Galder) and my dad (Parker athletic director John Zimmerman) were really good at making sure we peaked at this time. All practices were designed for that, so we just stuck to that game plan.”
The Vikings also knew they were hosting sectionals at the Janesville Country Club and could benefit a little from a home-course advantage.
They did just that on the back nine Tuesday, holding things together as other teams struggled on the way to winning a sectional title with a 331 score.
“We started off hot and then went through a slump and then pulled it together,” Sitter said. “We’re playing for each other. After bad rounds, we told each other it wasn’t the end of the world because we still had another tournament. Then we came to sectionals and put a good round together.
“We never really had a thought that we weren’t going to go to state this year. We kind of knew it was our year.
And now the Vikings have their hopes set on making some noise at state.
They know they won’t be the favorites to win it all when they tee off from 7:27 to 8:03 a.m. Monday, but they’ve shot scores low enough to feel that they can contend.
“We’re trying to go compete,” Henry said. “We’ll go hard in our first round and see where we land. I think we can be a top-five team if we play well.”
“That’s what’s so fun about having all these seniors,” coach Sam Van Galder said. “They realize high school golf is almost over and they aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel. They have their goals pretty high this week.
“But they also understand this is a walk they need to enjoy because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Area state golf outlook
Lake Geneva Badger has been ranked as one of the state’s top teams for most of this season, and a second-place finish at the Parker Sectional likely won’t change the Badgers’ feelings that they can contend at University Ridge.
Badger is making its fourth straight appearance at state and 31st overall.
Junior Blake Wisdom has been a catalyst for the team all season, piling up medalist awards throughout the spring.
He’s joined by senior Connor Duggan, junior Ben Rademaker, sophomore Carter Parent and freshman Luke Abram.
Coach Dave DeShambo admitted his team has not been playing its best golf in the recent weeks.
If the Badgers regain their form in Madison, a finish near the top of the leaderboard is hardly out of the question.
In Division 2, Edgerton returns to state for the first time in five years.
The Crimson Tide rallied late to shoot 322 at the Platteville Sectional, earning the second team state berth by just three strokes over Platteville.
Edgerton has a solid top four in seniors Alec Johnson and Jacob Fox and juniors Kyle Wille and Joe Forsting. Any one of them is capable of posting the team’s low score on any given day.
Edgerton’s tee times begin at 12:27 p.m. Monday.
Milton senior Tucker Dunk qualified for an individual spot in the D1 field out of the Parker Sectional and will tee off in the first group of the day Monday.