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Grant Walker Named State Coach Of The Year By NFHS

Girls’ golf coach now eligible for national award

A girls’ golf season unlike any other in school history has now produced an award a prestigious few individuals ever attain for head coach Grant Walker.

On Wednesday, Gilbert Schools was informed Walker has been named the Iowa Girls Golf Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Nominated by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, Walker is now eligible to be named the National Coach of the Year by the NFHS.

“It’s another compliment really to the players that I have,” Walker, who has been the Tigers’ head coach for seven seasons, said upon learning about the award. “I couldn’t win all of these awards without the players because they make up for my mistakes a lot of the time.

“To get it on the national level is a lot different because you’re competing against a lot more coaches, so it’s exciting to even be considered for that (national) award.”

Following the 2023 spring season in which the Tigers went unbeaten and claimed their first-ever Class 3A state championship, Walker was named the 3A State Coach of the Year by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association, an award he’s now won twice. He’s also been named the 3A IGCA District Coach of the Year four times.

In addition to the 2023 state crown, Walker has also guided the Gilbert girls’ golf program to 3A runner-up finishes in 2021 and 2022. The Tigers have also finished third and fourth at the state meet under his leadership.

But this past spring was unique. Gilbert wasn’t just the best team in 3A, it was the best team in Iowa regardless of class, as the statistics prove. The Tigers owned the top 9-hole average (156.40), the best 9-hole adjusted average (161.36), the No. 1 18-hole average (328.86), and the best 18-hole adjusted average (337.71).

No team beat the Tigers. Not in a dual meet, not in a triangular or quadrangular, and not in a tournament. It all culminated with Walker’s club leading the 3A state tournament wire-to-wire in Cedar Falls, as the Tigers claimed a 19-stroke victory over runner-up Dubuque Wahlert.

Eden Lohrbach, now a senior who will play collegiately at the University of Nebraska, won her second 3A individual title as well.

The 2023 season was truly a dream that became reality, and Walker says the girls were focused on achieving those goals from day one. A narrow loss at the 2022 state tournament was a driving motivator.

“They were out to prove a point last year, and I think everyone around the state got that message by the time the season was over,” Walker said. “They were going out and beating 4A teams by 50 shots.”

And here’s the scary part, for the rest of the state anyway — the Tigers could be, and probably should be, even better during the 2024 season. Five of their state-tournament players and six varsity regulars in all return — Eden Lohrbach and twin sisters Ava and Ella Lohrbach, as well as Macy Underwood, Josie Dukes, and Haley Loonan.

So, yeah, you better believe expectations will be just as lofty later this spring.

“I watched them all summer out at the golf course and I’m assuming they’re not getting worse,” Walker said with a chuckle. “They broke every single record we have last year and I have no reason to think they won’t turn around and do the same thing this spring, so it’s exciting.”

Gilbert Activities Director Ian Smith says NFHS got it right with its recognition of Walker, who has put in an immense amount of time behind the scenes to build the Gilbert girls’ golf program into what it is today.

“I’m so proud and happy for Grant, and he’s so deserving of this award,” Smith said. “Every single girl on the roster knows he cares for them and will coach them the same way, and that speaks to his character. He’s done a lot of work to build this program into what it is, and hopefully that will set us up for good things for years to come.”

Lunch Conversations

A lot of us have a hard time starting conversations with people we don’t know. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s also something we all have to do. In situations like this, stepping out of one’s comfort zone is never a bad thing.

In an effort to help our students in these types of situations, our high school team organized a special lunch yesterday. Titled “Lunch Conversations,” our students had an assigned table they were asked to sit at with students from different grade levels and individuals they might not have known prior to yesterday.

Teachers and staff members were present at each table to try to get the conversations going. The goal: To set aside social expectations and use conversation starters to chat with some different people during this one day.

And the results were extremely positive.

Our students did a wonderful job of getting to know new people. The three lunch periods were characterized by positive conversation, little to no phone usage, and new connections for our students.

Thank you to our students for being willing to participate in this activity, and thank you to our amazing team of educators and administrators at the high school for taking an active and leading role.

AWARD WINNERS: 3 XC Coaches Honored by Track Coaches Association

Thomas the 3A State Coach of the Year, Staudt the Assistant Coach of the Year

The cross country season was award-filled for our teams, so it makes sense the coaches joined in on the fun once the season concluded.

It was announced on Thursday that both of our head coaches and boys’ assistant coach Troy Staudt were honored as award winners by the Iowa Track Coaches Association.

Staudt was the lone recipient of the Boys Assistant Coach of the Year award. Head boys’ coach Aaron Thomas was named the Class 3A State Coach of the Year, while girls’ head coach Laura Kautman was a 3A At-Large Coach of the Year.

A part of the boys’ program for seven years, Staudt has been alongside Thomas for three of the Tigers’ four state championships since 2014, including this season. Staudt earned the high praise through a nomination and vote by coaches from across the state.

“It’s a great honor for Troy,” Thomas said. “When he came in, he’d admit that he didn’t have a lot of knowledge about cross country, but he’s worked so hard to have a better understanding and he plays a big role in planning workouts, planning training, those things.”

Thomas says Staudt is key to the growth of the entire program.

“That (varsity) meet we go to at Boone at the end of the year that’s for our JV kids, that was his idea,” Thomas said. “He looks at the whole picture and does a nice job of thinking about what can we do for all 30 or 40 kids on the team and what’s best for them.”

Thomas earned his fourth Coach of the Year accolade, which he says is a reflection of the work the athletes put in throughout the season.

“It’s voted on by your peers, so it’s nice to be recognized by them,” Thomas said. “What the kids did this year, the award is a reflection of that.”

The boys’ team dethroned Pella in 3A to win the state championship. The Tigers also won 3A crowns in 2014, 2017, and 2018.

Kautman’s honor comes after a stellar season for the girls’ program as well. The Tigers were ranked No. 2 for the majority of the season, joined the boys as Raccoon River Conference and State Qualifying Meet champions, and completed the campaign with a third-place finish at state.

Congratulations to all three coaches on these awards. They are certainly deserving of the accolades.

Six Strong: Gilbert Girls Will Swim In 10 Events At State For Ames

The Ames girls’ swimming and diving team is good, there’s no denying that. There’s depth, there’s balance, and there’s plenty of talent.

But here’s the secret not everybody knows about — some of the that talent walks our Gilbert High School halls every day.

Ames will take a large contingent of swimmers to the state meet in Marshalltown on Friday and Saturday, including six Gilbert girls — seniors Reese Winer and Elizabeth Powers; sophomores Alex Powers, Lily Van Der Linden, and Jaylyn Light; and freshman Madie Hermsen, who will serve as an alternate.

Gilbert has sent student-athletes to Ames to compete on the swimming and diving team for a number of years, and it’s been a friendly and productive partnership. This fall, nearly half of the Little Cyclones’ state qualifiers are Gilbert students.

“I’m super excited that we get to bring so many representatives from Gilbert,” Elizabeth Powers, who qualified for state in four events, said. “The team wouldn’t be the way it is without the team dynamic we have, Ames and Gilbert swimmers together, and we’re all really good friends.”

“This is the year we’ve had the most Gilbert girls on the state team, which is impressive,” Winer, a senior who signed to swim collegiately at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, on Wednesday, said. “We make up almost half of it and that’s just cool to see. Just because you go to different schools doesn’t mean you can’t equally represent.”

The five Gilbert qualifiers will swim in 10 events inside the Marshalltown YMCA/YWCA — seven individual events and three relays. Prelims will get underway Friday morning at 11 a.m. The state finals are set for noon on Saturday.

Winer will go it alone in two events — the 100-yard breaststroke where she’s seeded third and the 200 individual medley where she’s seeded eighth. She’s also on the Little Cyclones’ third-seeded 200 freestyle relay and fourth-seeded 200 medley relay.

It’s the second consecutive year Winer has qualified in four events. She bagged eighth-, ninth-, and 11th-place finishes in individual events in 2022, and played a role on Ames’ fifth-place 200 medley relay.

“I’m personally excited because I’m in the same events I’ve been in all year and there’s a senior drive to do better,” Winer said. “We are ranked higher than we were last year.”

Elizabeth Powers will also swim the 200 medley relay, as well as the 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, and 400 freestyle relay. She’s seeded ninth in both individual events. She was a three-time qualifier in 2022, highlighted by a seventh-place result as part of Ames’ 400 freestyle relay.

Alex Powers will swim three times, once alongside Winer in the 200 freestyle relay and once against her in the 100 breaststroke where she’s seeded seventh. She’ll also compete in the 50 freestyle.

Van Der Linden will dive into the pool for a pair of long-distance swims — the 200 and 500 freestyle. She’s got the 12th-fastest qualifying time in the 500 freestyle.

Light makes her return to state in the 100 backstroke as the No. 19 seed. She was 17th in the same event a year ago.

Elizabeth Powers says the girls are prepared to leave every ounce of energy they have in the water. If that results in state medals, fantastic. And if not, as long as there are no regrets, she can live with the outcomes.

“I wouldn’t say there’s an expectation to do well, but there is an expectation for personal improvement,” she said. “That’s what we’re really excited for.”

Good luck to all of our swimmers this weekend, and good luck to the entire Ames squad, which will look to improve upon its fourth-place finish in 2022.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740