CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Catholic coach Shawn Panther said he always knows what he’s going to get from his top two golfers, but the Cougars were going to need more to repeat as state champions.
Last year, Catholic won the 3A title for the first time and won their first state tournament since 2004.
Senior Drew Hackett sank the winning putt in last season’s championship and has been the Cougars leading scorer by a hair. The UNC Wilmington commit is steady and consistent after finishing fourth in the state last year. He is a big-time team leader as one of just two seniors.
Junior Jack Heath is lefty with a sweet swing. As a sophomore, Heath had followed up his great showing at the state tournament with a commitment to Tennessee. After the Vols coach retired, Heath has re-opened his commitment and is attracting a host of Power 5 schools hot on his trail.
“Drew and Jack have been there all year,” Panther said. “I know they’re going to show up. They may have been the two best players in the city all season, and I’m blessed to have them.”
But with the loss of a couple of seniors who scored regularly on last year’s team, two new front runners were going to need to emerge from an unlikely source.
Juniors Alex Campbell and John Fahey were part-time golfers who also star on the Cougar soccer team.
Last season, neither Fahey or Campbell qualified for the state tournament. Panther thought they could benefit from traveling with the team, seeing the atmosphere and preparation that goes into such an event and maybe gain some experience for this season’s run.
And it worked as Campbell, Fahey and Hampden-Sydney commit Alex Rubino, the other senior on the roster with Hackett, shined.
The Cougars had some bumps along the road as they lost in a conference match to Marvin Ridge marking the first time the Mavs had ever beaten Charlotte Catholic. They finished fourth at a prestigious event in Durham featuring all of the previous year’s runners-up and state champions.
“I think that’s when the kids started to realize we were always going to get everyone’s best shot,” Panther said. “Last year was fun. This year it was a little different being the hunted. When we showed up at a tournament, everyone noticed and we were the team everyone wanted to beat.”
The Cougars entered the postseason on a mission. They ran away with the conference title, avenging their loss to Marvin Ridge.
In the regionals, Heath was the 3A West medalist with a low round of 69. Hackett followed with a 70, Rubino shot a 74 and Mitchell Tanis carded a 75 to lead the Cougars to a 16-shot win. Campbell shot a 77 and failed to score at the regional tournament, but he and Fahey were about to help lock up Catholic’s second title the following week.
“You never know how kids are going to show up when it matters, but they played some of their best golf and gave us some separation there at the end,” Panther said. “To have those two kids … show up under pressure and to play the way they did was the key.”
At the state meet, Heath carded a 69 on the first day followed by Hackett (70), Campbell (75) and Fahey (77) as Catholic built a 13-shot Day 1 lead over runner-up Clayton.
“Jack and Drew played their top two even, but we just had so much depth,” Panther said. “Alex Campbell and John Fahey beat Clayton’s 3 and 4 players by 22 shots and we won by 21. We played 10 rounds and we were the only school not to put anyone in the 80s. Every other school had at least three scoring rounds they had to take in the 80s and we didn’t have one player even shoot in the 80s the two days.”
Hackett and Heath ended up tying for second place with two-day scores of 147. Campbell tied for seventh with a 151 and Fahey fired a 154, good for a tie for 15th.
“To win two titles in the first 53 years of the school and now we’ve won two back-to-back is special. It’s a great program-builder and we’re definitely building something here,” Panther said. “Now that we’ve established ourselves and won two in a row, we’re going to have an even bigger target on us next year. I think the kids like it but we know we’ll have to keep after it.”