Williams Field golf has taken home the 2021 Division II state championship, the first in school history. The program has been successful since the school started in 2007, which also happens to be when Rick Miles was hired as head coach, beginning his quest for a state title.
In years past, the Black Hawks experienced a lot of regular-season success, but when it came down to the playoffs, Miles found his squad struggling to get over their biggest challenge: coming out on top in the state of Arizona when it matters most.
Senior, Rylan Johnson, came in second place individually, which was the top spot for any player on this year’s state championship team. Johnson has gotten extremely close to a state title before. The team came in second in the state tournament as a freshman on varsity, as well as his junior season that fell short by one place in the final rankings.
“It was bound to happen eventually,” Johnson said.
Last year, Miles watched his team beat some of the top competition. However, when they had to put it all together for the state tournament, the same execution did not appear to be there.
“The day we walked off the course in the state tournament last year, everybody on the team, myself included, knew that this should be our year,” Miles said.
They felt they had the most talent returning on the D2 level, and it was going to come down to commitment during the off-season.
Miles also prepared his team with what to expect coming into this year.
“Although we may be the favorites on paper, no one is going to hand us anything,” Miles said. “The target on our back just got bigger.”
Not only did he warn his guys that teams were going to give them their best shot, but Miles also decided that he was going to lean into the challenge. He altered the way he scheduled matches, choosing difficult situations that would mentally prepare his players for what they would endure at the end of the year.
More than anything, Miles wanted to remove intimidation from the equation. Whether it be the moment, the competition or the course. His goal was to equip the Black Hawk golfers with as much mental and physical endurance as they could need.
That meant the regular season would not be easy. Williams Field would not experience as much team success as they did in years prior, even winning multiple tournaments in recent seasons. Now, Miles was unsure if those wins truly prepared his players for what was to come at the state tournament.
“No one is going to remember five years from now who won the Grayhawk Invitational, but those banners hang in the gym forever,” Miles said.
So, when the team did not do as well in a match here or a tournament there, Miles had to reiterate that their focus needs to be on the bigger picture. When most teams were focusing on results as a group during the regular season, Williams Field was looking at individual performance and where they can improve.
That takes a coach saying the right things to keep his team motivated, and beyond that, they have to trust the experience of the veteran players to rub off on their younger teammates.
“I try to be the best leader I can and be an example of where hard work can take those young guys,” said Johnson, who signed with Oregon State University.
The way things had been run for the last three years were effective to an extent. Two second place finishes at state, tournament victories and golfers headed to play at the collegiate level. One accolade missing for both coach Miles and players like Johnson was that ever-coveted state ring.
With changes to Miles’ normal blueprint for a high school golf season, Johnson wasted no time adapting. He acknowledged pretty early on that he knew this would be good for the Black Hawk team in the long run.
“It was good to play those tough golf tournaments during the season, going up against some 6A competition like Hamilton and Brophy,” Johnson said.
The teams they faced at the state tournament were some they have beaten before, but with the conditions they had already been through during the regular season, the pressure of winning it all felt like nothing. Williams Field was prepared for the grind this time around.
A big difference between high school golf and a lot of other sports is that during the state tournament players go for individual low score, as well as the lowest team score. A little bit of a mindset shift from what Miles implemented during the regular season.
His future may involve him being a Beaver, however, his time as a Black Hawk helped Johnson with the tools needed to be a team player. Not because he lacks the individual skill needed, but because the college ranks are based on team results.
“I have to consistently remind the kids that it is a team competition, and you might be playing poorly in your eyes, but your teammate might be playing really well and picking the team up,” Miles said. “The moment you stop trying for yourself, you stop trying for your team.”
Eli Asolas was an integral part of the team that won it all this season, tying for ninth place overall at state. He will return for another season next year, and one way coach Miles can ease the transition of talent, is using returning players to carry over the culture to the freshman and sophomores.
Asolas will be one of those players who will help keep the Black Hawks from entering a slump next season after winning the title.
Miles, though, isn’t worried. When the team was presented the trophy at a local school board meeting one of his players was late because he was already back on the range.
“That’s how we do it,” Miles said. “Tomorrow, our 2022 season starts.”