Grand Island Central Catholic High boys golf coach Craig Rupp is the 2019 Boys Coach of the Year. Standing in the school's old gym, Rupp is holding the Class C state championship trophy, which marks the fourth state title in five years for Rupp and the Crusader golfers. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

Grand Island Central Catholic has built somewhat of a dynasty in boys golf the past five years.

Players like Tucker Krzycki, Eshan Sood, Collin Toner, Jack Goering and Gavin Fox — and younger brother Eli Fox — put the work in to help the Crusaders to four state titles in five seasons.

Leading it all is head coach Craig Rupp, who after GICC’s Class C state title this spring has won four state championships in seven years of coaching.

“He’s a supportive coach. He’s fun to be around,” said Gavin Fox, who graduated a year ago. “Over the four years I learned from him that golf is fun. That’s why you play it.”

Goering, who like Gavin Fox was on three state championship teams, said Rupp played a large role in the success of the program.

“He’s been very helpful with everything,” Goering said. “He’s always very supportive. He does a great job of keeping us comfortable and working hard. Golf, it’s always good to be in a good mindset and he keeps you in a good, lighthearted mindset before rounds and after rounds.”

That state title the Crusaders won this year coupled with the 2015, 2016 and 2018 crowns has led Rupp to being named The Independent’s boys coach of the year.

Each state championship team has been different. This year’s squad dealt with bad weather throughout the spring, and then the state meet was shortened to one day because of heavy rain that hit Nebraska on the first day of the tournament.

“The kids fought through it,” Rupp said. “This wasn’t one of my most talented team, but they were really hard-working. The weather was hard on us all year — not just us but tennis and track. You just had to fight through it and take the day that you got.”

Eli Fox finished tied for second in Class C this year. It was his putt on the 18th that clinched the team title by a 324-325 margin over Battle Creek.

“I wish it was a two-day event,” Rupp said. “But that’s how it was. I told the kids this was do or die. We tried to stay away from big numbers. We had a couple of kids who had some big numbers, but they also had a couple of holes that made up for those.

“We got lucky. There were a few players out there that were making putts from 40-plus feet or you hit out of bounds and find the ball with 30 seconds left on the clock.”

Rupp said the first state title in 2015 was a surprise to just about everyone, including himself.

The Crusaders won the state crown with a 620. Ord was second at 626.

Krzycki was a sophomore and tied for seventh. Eshan Sood tied for 14th, Collin Toner tied for 21st and Gavin Fox, a freshman at the time, tied for 36th. Senior Casey Brown tied for 61st to round out the GICC team.

Ord was considered by many the team to beat that year. Bishop Neumann and Lincoln Christian were also good. Rupp admits he thought that team was a year away.

“We thought we could go in there and be competitive,” Rupp said. “We just had a really good first day, and then the second day we just really put it together. It was just two good days of hard work and good play and not making the big mistakes.”

The players weren’t really expecting to win either.

“The first one honestly was the most exciting because we weren’t expecting to win it,” Gavin Fox said. “All of a sudden the scores were up and we were on top and it just kind of happened.”

Rupp joked with the players that the 2016 team was the “Dream Team.” The Crusaders shot 630 to win the Class C state title, 17 strokes ahead of Lincoln Christian in second.

“There were a lot of tournaments we walked in and beat people by 15 or 20 strokes,” Rupp said. “We were loaded with Eshan and Tucker and Collin and Gavin, and that’s when Jack was a freshman. I can honestly say I think any one of those five guys could have been No. 1 on any team in the state.”

GICC led by 10 after the first day and were never threatened. Sood tied for third to lead the Crusaders in 2016. Krzycki tied for seventh, Fox tied for 10th and Goering tied for 18th with Toner tied for 22nd.

“My first one my freshman year we were very, very talented,” Goering said. “He (Rupp) kind of let us do our own thing and work our way around the golf course. Each year we had really good golfers graduate, so Rupp had to work hard on teaching kids how to manage their game, not getting frustrated when they hit a bad shot and just move on to the next one.”

That’s been a key to Rupp’s coaching over the years. He wants his players to put bad shots behind them and look towards the next.

It’s the same “next play” mentality that Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook preaches.

“You got to forget about it,” Rupp said. “You have to forget the past and think about the next hole, think about the next shot because if you dwell on the couple of bad shots you had it’s just going to stay with you.

“These kids, it’s so easy for them to get frustrated. My job these last few years was just to keep these kids calm, to just relax. If they have a bad shot, let’s make the next shot better and they can build on it.”

There was plenty of frustration a year ago when the Crusaders trailed Elmwood-Murdock 318 to 320 after the first day of state play. But GICC rebounded on Day 2 to win the team title with a 637, 10 strokes ahead of Elmwood-Murdock.

Gavin Fox tied for fifth, Goering tied for ninth, Eli Fox tied for 16th, Carson Hamik tied for 38th and freshman Will Goering freshman tied for 50th.

“We didn’t play our best,” Rupp said. “I thought we would play better the second day. Once again we stayed away from the big numbers. Holes 17 and 18 really damaged us. We probably could have won by a lot more.”

Gavin Fox was thrilled to end his high school career with his third state title a year ago.

“The last one was probably the most rewarding,” he said. “The whole team had to work much harder. I could tell coach was really happy.”

Rupp has coached youth basketball in the past and has been involved in officiating for years. He said coaching golf is a bit different from other sports.

“You still have to teach kids the fundamentals,” he said. “They still have to do the little things to make things right. You still have to practice hard. The biggest part for me was to have the kids forget a bad shot.”

Rupp gives all the credit for the team’s success to the players he’s had.

“They really went on their own and took the extra initiative to practice on their own,” Rupp said. “I got great help from some extra coaches and some parents. The kids are just a good bunch of kids that I’ve had over the past seven years.”

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