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.”