Corey Cusick/ Times-Georgian
The senior class of the Carrollton High School boys' golf team is swinging a perfect 4-for-4 these days.
The trio of Max Schoenfeld, Will Cochran and Chandler Dixon are putting in the final preparations for their fourth and final trip to the GHSA Golf State Championships, and this one will be a short trek to their home course of Sunset Hills Country Club, which will play host to the Class AAAAA boys' field on Monday and Tuesday.
Trojan head coach Kurt Hitzeman has watched his seniors grow on and off the course over the past four years and he couldn't think of a better send-off than to see them graduate on Friday evening and then get to compete for a state title in the comforts of Carrollton just a few days later to close out their high school careers.
"This is their fourth time playing in a state championship in four years. There aren't many Trojans that can say that and there aren't many kids in this whole area that can say that through the years," Hitzeman said. "We're going to put them out front and hopefully Will and Max can set the tone."
Dixon, who has signed with Eastern Florida on a golf scholarship, won't be competing due to injury, but the pairing of Schoenfeld and Cochran at the top will lead the way for the rest of the crew, which includes Mario Perezcassar III, Cole New, Clay Fontenot and Dalton Benefield.
"We're pretty excited. It's nice to be playing at home. We've only done this one other time that I can recall and that's region last year and we posted our best score that we've ever played as a team. So hopefully we can repeat that. It would be a good time to do it," said Schoenfeld, who will attend the University of Georgia in the fall to focus on academics.
Cochran, also a UGA-bound student, is confident the Trojans can string together a little Sunset Hills magic and make a run at the Class AAAAA crown.
"We're neck-and-neck with all the top teams. It's just going to come down to who's playing their best round of golf those two days. With the practice we're putting in, we should be able to get the job done," Cochran said.
Carrollton community coach Taylor Ash vividly remembers the last time the Trojan program played host to the state championships 19 years ago, which proved to be a bittersweet memory.
"It's probably the best high school team that Carrollton's ever had and they didn't qualify for state," Ash said. "They hosted it here and it takes a lot to host. It's a lot of work. So that really hurt. I wasn't on the team yet. I was in the eighth grade, but they had an unbelievable team and for these guys to make it, it's been extra rewarding for me for the kind of kids they are and also because Kurt has worked his tail off to be able to host here."
For this group to make the qualifying cut, it makes the fact that Carrollton is hosting the showcase event all the more special this time around nearly two decades later.
"It's pretty cool because Kurt and I have coached these kids since they were in seventh grade. To build up to this, they're graduating Friday and to play in the state championship right after you graduate ... Two of them are going to Georgia and one of them is going to play golf, so it's pretty special that we're able to host this here as kind of their going-away party," Ash said.
Among the 10 state qualifying teams, the Trojans tied for the fourth-best qualifying score from area at 321, as Starr's Mill (289), Ola (295) and McIntosh (296) out of Area 2-AAAAA enter as the favorites, while Statesboro also tallied a 321.
"We feel like if we play our best we can contend with them. We feel like their area scores will come up a little bit at our course and our area score will come down. We certainly have tried to meet those teams in tournaments throughout the year and in past years. We wanted to see what competition was out there," Hitzeman said. "That's the same reason we invited Starr's Mill to our [Trojan] Invitational. If we wanted to run from them, then we would have never invited them here. They've seen the course and they know what it is."
Hitzeman said it's no secret that his guys have to show out in their final outing of the season — and career for the seniors — in order to leapfrog the front-runners.
"We know we've got to have career days two days in a row. We've got to career it. If we do that, then we're going to be right there and I think we can win it," Hitzeman said. "But the only thing we can do at this point is prepare to career it.
"This whole week and last week, what we've been doing is trying to put ourselves in the position to where we can have the best rounds of our lives. We can't wish for it or hope for it. We've got to go out and do it."
Another aspect of the two-day affair, which includes a welcome party this evening, is not only delivering a strong showing from the team, but putting on a first-class event with the eyes of the state zooming in on Carrollton.
Hitzeman said it's an honor to serve as the host site — Oak Mountain Championship Golf Club is hosting the Class AAAAA girls' state championships — and he wants to ensure that everyone walks away with good things to say about the experience.
"Looking at this tournament, we obviously have goals we want to accomplish. We've got scores we want to shoot, we've got a team finish we have in our mind. But the reason why we're hosting state has nothing to do with competition. The reason we're hosting state is we feel as a program and as a school that if there's anybody that needs to be hosting a state tournament in Georgia, it ought to be Carrollton," Hitzeman said.
"We wanted to put our best foot forward to show off all the great things we do in our city and with our school system. Our two courses are doing just an outstanding job of accommodating us. Obviously, we're very thankful for them, their staffs, their boards and their ownership. But really the reason why we're hosting is because we want to try to embody the best of what we can be. By actually taking the leap to jump out there, it's a test. But we can only show how good we can be if we take that leap. So that's what we're doing this for."