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Ottawa Pirates golf hoping to set sail to state

McDonnell, Stoudt lead a talented, promising group

Keith Budzowski has a craving, and the third-year Ottawa golf head coach is confident his Pirates can satisfy that hunger come October.

"I've sort of joked with them, 'You know, it's been a while since I've gone down to Bloomington and had any gondolas (sandwiches from Avanti's, a Bloomington-Normal staple). I'm pretty hungry for a gondola, so we better make it this year,' " Budzowski said.

Bloomington-Normal is also the site of the IHSA state tournaments.

Budzowski's experienced and deep 11-player roster (three seniors, five juniors, one sophomore, two freshmen) features veteran standout TJ McDonnell, along with a couple of talented newcomers in Jonathan Cooper and Hannah Duggan.

"I think we've got a well-seasoned group ... that's pretty tournament-tested," Budzowski said. "We're going to have that depth this year."

"We had a meeting at the end of last season. I talked about where we were at — kind of reiterated that we were going into the new conference this year — and if they work over the summer, we have a really good chance of doing very well in (the Interstate Eight) Conference. You know, I think they sort of grabbed onto that, and they really wanted to work on things this summer.

"They've been really working this summer. This whole summer, they've been playing, and seeing some of those scores coming in, I'm really optimistic.

"I have really high hopes for them. I think they're really excited for this season. They worked really hard, and they're just ready to go. I think they want to win, especially TJ being a senior."

Leading the Pirates will be McDonnell, a fourth-year varsity competitor and two-time sectional qualifier.

"I like the fact that (TJ has) done it; I mean, he's well-groomed into what we expect out of a varsity player," Budzowski said. "From last year, he's grown a lot (mentally). He took it a lot more serious this summer.

"I think there's no question he's going to find some way to make it (to state); he's going to do it this year."

Also returning are sophomore Drake Stoudt — Ottawa's No. 2 golfer last year — 12th-graders Kadon Harth and Joe Connell, as well as juniors Nick Angus and Caden Ericzon. The other juniors are Michael Bruner, Blaine Koppen and Noah Stoudt.

Cooper and Duggan are a pair of promising ninth-graders.

"Jonathan's demeanor on the course, that's going to be his meal ticket coming into high school golf," Budzowski said, "and I think as Jonathan grows (physically), I think he's going to become one of the better golfers to go through the Ottawa program.

"Hannah's a solid player. She's level-headed. If she can keep the progression that she's had playing already, I think there's 0% chance in my mind that she's not going to go on and play golf collegiately."

Budzowski believes if the Pirates can "keep it together" success will follow.

"I'm confident we're going to do well during the regular season and in the invites," said Budzowski, who added it's not out of the realm of possibility that Ottawa could run the table in the I-8. "My question mark right now is, what's going to happen during the postseason?

"I'm fully optimistic that we can do something as a team in the postseason. We have the experience. The one goal that I probably would say I'd like to see from these kids is to win a regional. I think they have the utmost ability to do it.

"I feel like (TJ is) going to make it to state this year — no problem — but I think what would make it better for TJ is if he had five kids to do it with him."

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