Led by last year’s Class AAAAA state champion, sophomore Jonathan Keppler, the Mustangs finished as the Region 4AAAAA runner-up and reached the state tournament for just the second time.
Kennesaw Mountain tied for 13th at the state tournament, and the experience has only helped Keppler, Cole Hunsucker, Stewart Lawrence and Zach Wilson prepare for the upcoming campaign.
“Cole and Jonathan are definitely our leaders,” coach Chris Walker said. “Cole’s a senior who’s been with this team all four years, and he knows Jonathan is very talented and our best golfer.
“There are no egos on this team. Everyone plays well together because we all share the same goals on the team, and that’s to win the region championship and finish among the best, if not be the best, in the state.”
That task will prove a little harder for some teams, including Kennesaw Mountain.
The Georgia High School Association made changes to how the postseason is conducted. A sectional tournament has been added, along with a scoring limit and more region qualifiers.
Previously, only the top two teams from each region advanced to the state tournament. Beginning this season, however, the top four will move on based on team scores, and only those meeting the qualifying score requirement — 330 for Classes AAAAA and AAAAAA — will advance to the sectional or state meet.
The winning team from each region tournament, as long as it posts a qualifying score, will go directly to the state tournament. Region winners that do not post a qualifying score will move on to the sectional.
All other qualifying teams in the top four of each region tournament will also play in the sectional.
Area champions from Class A will advance to the state tournament, with second-, third- and fourth-place teams competing in the sectional for the remaining state tournament slots.
“With the team we have, I believe we can make the cut,” said Walker, whose team shot 338 at last year’s Region 4AAAAA tournament, before dropping it to 328 at the state tournament. “I think it’s a fair number and a fair system for the boys. I like it.
“It’s makes teams really have to earn their way to the state tournament, and once they get there, the meet is more competitive. We all get a fair shot at region, and the sectional gives you a second chance if you have a bad day.”
One player already looking for another shot is Keppler. A state champion as a freshman, he is already under the microscope heading into his sophomore season.
Walker believes Keppler’s work ethic and talent will give him an edge in earning back-to-back championships.
“Jonathan just has to keep steady with what he’s doing,” Walker said. “He already works hard after school, and as long as he keeps practicing and doesn’t get in his own way, he’ll be fine.
“He has all of the tools going for him. He’s very talented, and there’s always room for improvement.”
Walker thinks Keppler isn’t ready to call his first state championship his last one.
“I don’t think he’s satisfied with one state championship,” Walker said. “He wants to win every year.
Keppler is focused on doing just that.
“I didn’t expect to win state last year, so to win again would be just as great as last year,” he said. “I’ve been working on staying focused on golf and not getting sidetracked. If you’re not mentally into it, then you can definitely be beaten.”
Keppler also credited his teammates for success. He expects some good things to happen with his veteran group as they improve throughout the season.
“This is a great bunch of guys to be around,” Keppler said. “We’re really comfortable and supportive of one another and, hopefully, we can put it all together to make a run at state.”