Beuckens, Christenson proud to lead West Central Area to fifth at state in final high school competition
Grant Beuckens and Tate Christenson have come close to making playing in a Minnesota tournament in several sports but always came up short. But in the least likely sport and in their final chance, the two West Central Area seniors cash in on an unforgettable experience.
West Central Area seniors Grant Beuckens and Tate Christenson have felt the heartbreak of coming up short in section tournaments during their athletic careers.
With one last shot to make it to the biggest stage, Beuckens and Christenson led a youthful group to WCA's first boys golf section championship in program history. Aside from a first-round football exit in 2017, four years of agony paid off in their final chance as high school athletes.
"It was quite the experience, honestly," Beuckens said. "There's not much like it. From sections to state, it's such a big change. There are so many people, and it's such a great atmosphere. It was an awesome experience to get to do that with our team."
The Knights took fifth place with a two-day score of 691. Beuckens led all WCA golfers with a low score of 168, while Christenson's 173 was third-best on the team.
Beuckens and Christenson both played varsity basketball each of the last four years. In the 2019-20 season, the Knights lost in the Section 6A championship to Henning. A year later, Hancock knocked off WCA in the Sub-Section final in overtime.
Christenson also played football. The West Central Area-Ashby Knights were headed to its first 6AA championship game in two years before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the playoff run short for all fall teams. Needless to say, getting close wasn't far enough anymore.
"We know that pain in basketball," WCA head boys golf and boys basketball coach Kraig Hunter said. "There are so many teams in each section, and only one of them gets to go to state. We were good both years, and they always had that dream. When the golf season started this year, and we started winning a few tournaments, we started talking in the back of our minds about how we might have a chance to make it with this team. For them to make it is really special."
The Knights got the sendoff with firetrucks and community members gathering many section champions get. If you asked Beuckens in ninth grade if golf would be his sport to do it, he would've called you crazy.
"I used to be a big baseball player in ninth and 10th grade," Beuckens said. "I went out golfing a few times in the summer and fell in love with it. A couple of years later, I'm sitting here playing golf at state. It's pretty crazy, but that's just how it went, I guess."
Beuckens and Christenson have spent the last handful of winter and spring seasons with Hunter as their head coach. Their relationship has grown beyond player-and-coach.
"He's been there for everything," Beuckens said. "Even outside of sports, he's there for us. He pushes us to be better athletes and better people. It's like that for everybody on the team. It doesn't matter how old you are or how good you are. We've built a great connection with him."
When Beuckens walked down the last fairway at Perham Lakeside Golf Course in the 6A championship, he had a smile his teammates could see from a mile away. He knew that after getting so close so many times, he finally made it.
"Grant didn't have his best round in the section tournament, but you could tell how happy he was," Hunter said. "He walked up the fairway, went up to his teammates and told them they did it as a team. It says a lot about him to say that after not having his best day when he's been our top guy all year. It shows how much it meant for him to go to state."
Beuckens and Christenson were the only seniors for WCA this spring. Along with putting up top scores, they also helped the underclassmen grow into a state-tournament team.
"If anybody knows Grant and Tate, they know they are tremendous people and tremendous leaders. You can see that with our sendoff before we left for state. We had a number of people come out to our golf course. I told the team it's because they are good kids, and a lot of that has to do with Grant and Tate. They are perfect role models."
Hopefully not the last time
While the Knights say goodbye to Beuckens and Christenson, four underclassmen got a taste of what could be a budding program.
Freshman Mitch Dewey shot the second lowest WCA score at 169. Dewey shot an 81 on the second day of the tournament, which led all Knights.
"He's a phenomenal golfer," Hunter said. "If you want to know the game of golf and see fundamentals, look at Mitch. He has a complete game. His short game was probably the best of anybody in the conference this year. It wasn't just today. He does this all the time. You can see it when he walks on the course how focused he is."
Dewey will likely be the Knights' top guy next spring, but Hunter is hoping for more depth.
"We told the younger kids that not a lot of athletes get a chance to go to state this young," Hunter said. "To play in front of all these people in a big atmosphere is hard to get used to. But now they have that experience. We need to add depth. Very seldomly did we have a first or second-place finish in a tournament. We'd have five out of the top 15 placements. That's why our team was so good, but we need to add depth."
Making it to state is a chance to grow the program into a consistent contender, but Hunter is unsure of what the future of WCA golf will look like beyond this season.
"In a small school like this, it's hard to grow when you have three spring sports with so few kids," Hunter said. "I know kids see what we did and our success. I hope this gets kids interested. We do have some other kids in our school that golf in the summertime that could help us. We want them to be part of this."
WCA INDIVISUAL SCORES (PAR 144)- Grant Beuckens 168, Mitch Dewey 169, Tate Christenson 173, Peyton Hanson 183, Marshall Dewey 189, Sam Hanson 207
TEAM TWO-DAY SCORES- 1st- Fertile-Beltrami 629, 2nd- Legacy Christian Academy 642, 3rd- Sleepy Eye 656, 4th- North Woods 675, 5th- WCA- 691, 6th- Benson 707, 7th- Lanesboro 714, 8th- Adrian 731