The Kamiak High School boys golf team has been waiting a long time to defend its state championship.
So long, in fact, only one player remains from the last team crowned Class 4A state champs three years ago.
“We laugh about being reigning state champs for three years in a row,” Kamiak coach Vic Alinen said. “It’s kind of a cute little between-us joke.”
But even three years later, the Knights remain the team to beat at state.
The 4A state tournament returns Tuesday and Wednesday at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club in Olympia, following cancellations each of the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Kamiak is determined to retain the title it claimed in 2019.
“We’ve been waiting a long time,” said senior captain Daniel Kim, the team’s No. 1 player and the lone member of the team who was a part of the 2019 state championship. “We’re excited to get back and play state and defend that title.”
The Knights are coming off a dominating campaign in which they won all of their competitions except one: the prestigious Bill Egbers Memorial tournament, when Kamiak lost to Mead by one stroke when Kim was away playing at a national tournament. The Knights claimed the District 1 championship in style to earn the district’s only team berth to state, meaning Kamiak will have all of their top five participating at state.
It all begins with Kim. The future Washington State University Cougar, who tied for fifth individually at state in 2019 as a freshman, has a plus-5 handicap and is regularly under par. He’s considered a top contender for the individual championship.
“When he was in eighth grade I got a call from the University of Washington coach asking me to bring Daniel down there,” Alinen recalled. “I asked if it was OK if I brought his brother. He said, ‘I don’t care if you bring his mother, just make sure Daniel is there.’ This was an eighth grader. They saw the tenacity, the ferociousness that he wanted to be the very best. He lives that way, and he demonstrates it in the way he responds to blow-up holes or missed putts. He doesn’t change, he’s just a steady guy.”
But it’s not just the Kim show. The Knights round out their lineup with four players who are par golfers in sophomore Brandon Suh, junior Brandon Yoon, freshman Aaron Choi and junior Luke Strand. Although they play as Nos. 2, 3 4 and 5, respectively, they’re essentially equal as players, meaning Kamiak has no weak spots. With only the top four out of five counting toward scoring at state, the Knights can weather one player having an off tournament.
“From top to bottom we always talk about it as a team,” Kim said. “I truly believe we have the most consistent team. We have a lot of depth one through five — even six, though we can only play five. Most teams only have a couple guys who shoot under par, but then maybe their No. 4 and No. 5 are not as similar score-wise. We feel like we have that depth.”
That depth has become a trademark at Kamiak, which no longer rebuilds, but reloads. The Knights, with the likes of Class of 2021 members Josh Clogston and Reese Jorgensen in the fold, would have been among the favorites in both 2020 and 2021 as well.
The key is that the Knights have taken the idea of turning an individual sport into a team sport to heart.
“Most teams have a bunch of individuals who happen to wear the same baseball cap,” Alinen said, noting the Knights always eat together following matches, with each player giving a lowlight and a highlight. “Not us. We have five guys who are the umbrella of a team that trusts each other.
“And Daniel is a great team leader,” Alinen added. “Without me even asking, he’ll see a young man struggling in his game and just kind of walk up alongside him and whisper something to him, whether it’s a technique, a truth or a mental issue, and all of a sudden the kid’s swing is corrected or an attitude changes. He’ll even reach out to guys on other teams. He’s so humble that you just enjoy him.”
Now it’s on to state, and the Knights have lofty goals.
“We want to take as much hardware home as we can,” Kim said.