BY RICK MORWICK
Noah Gillard had a lot on his mind heading into the final round of the IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals.
At the forefront was how to rally his heavily-favored team from a six-stroke, first-round deficit – and avoid the bitter fate of the previous season, when top-ranked Center Grove had a poor Day 1 and settled for a runner-up finish.
In the back of his mind was making a play for the individual state championship, which also seemed out of reach after the opening round.
“Our team embraced the pressure,” said Gillard, the Trojans’ No. 1 player. “I think some teams would lean away from the pressure, but I think we embraced it really well. I think we liked having a target on our backs, and we played really well when it counted.”
Indeed they did.
On the second and final day of the June 13-14 State Finals at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel, the Trojans roared back and won their first-ever team championship – and did so in historic fashion.
Led by Gillard, who also won the individual state title, No. 1 Center Grove cruised past No. 2 Carmel and, in the process, set state finals records for 18 and 36 holes. On the final day, the Trojans shot a 281, breaking the former 18-hole mark of 283 shared by Columbus North (2011) and Noblesville (2013).
Morever, Center Grove’s final two-day total of 573 beat the former standard of 575 set by Westfield in 2013.
By the time the day was over, the Trojans – under the direction of first-year coach Matt Rodman – had a 13-stroke win over first-round leader Carmel; a pair of IHSAA state records; and their first-ever team and individual boys golf state titles.
“It’s an awesome feeling. You don’t want it to go away,” said Gillard, who will be a senior this fall. “I’m really proud of the team. We worked on this the whole year, so I’m just really proud of the team.”
Gillard, who committed to the University of Illinois in September 2016, won the individual championship with a 6-under par 138, edging runner-up Nick Osterburg of Perry Meridian by two strokes. But Gillard alone didn’t carry the Trojans, whose 3-under par team total was the result of phenomenal performances by teammates Sam Jean, Ethan Shepherd, Logan Anderson and Luke DeHaven.
Jean, a junior, was third among individuals with a 143. Shepherd, the Trojans’ lone senior, tied for fourth with a 144. Anderson, a sophomore, was 16th with a 148. And DeHaven, also a sophomore, was 52nd with a 157.
“(Winning state) was definitely a goal from Day 1, Day 1 of the first practice,” Gillard said. “But we were focused on winning every tournament that we played in, and then once we go to the state tournament, we focused on that one, too. But for sure, that was definitely what our big goal was.”
With all but one starter returning next season, it’s easy to understand why Gillard can’t wait to defend the team championship and make another run for the individual medalist honor.
“We’ll be back in the mix again,” said Gillard, who also plays for Center Grove’s varsity basketball team. “I think our mentality will stay the same. Winning one state championship will make us more hungry to win another, because that feeling and that ring is so great. I think that will keep us even more hungry.”
THE GILLARD FILE
Name: Noah Gillard
High school: Center Grove
Sports: Golf and basketball
Favorite TV show: “Stranger Things”
Favorite movie: “Interstellar”
College plans: Will continue golf career on scholarship at the University of Illinois
Tentative major: Sports management
Parents: Dave and Amy Gillard