BELLEVILLE — Althoff golf coach Dan Polites knew before the start of the 2011 season that his Crusaders had a chance to be a special team.
How special? Polites wasn't sure.
"We won the Alton Tee-Off Classic and then placed second at the Haas/Goalby Invitational, but after we placed second at the Champaign Tournament, I knew we had a chance to do something. I called a meeting the next day and told the team that I thought we could win the state tournament,'' Polites said. "It's funny because the next day we went down and lost to Mount Vernon. I thought we were cursed.''
The Crusaders proved to be anything but jinxed. Led by top 10 finishes from Austin VonAlst and Sam Lidisky, Althoff proved its coach right in October by winning the Class 2A state title at Weibring Golf Course in Normal.
"It's every coaches' dream come true,'' Polites said of the state championship. "This season we're hoping to get back to the state. Once you're there, anything can happen.''
The Crusaders return one of the state's top players, junior Michael Johnson, along with senior Jimmy Murphy and junior Grant Strieker from the state championship squad.
"We've got a good nucleus back, and I know most of the team played a lot of golf in the summer to get ready for this season,'' Polites said. "We finished second at the Alton Tournament and I know we can play better then what we did.''
Johnson, who tied for 50th at the state finals last season, is already off to a good start. After finishing the 54-hole team qualifying tournament at 3-under par, Johnson shot a 74 at the Alton Tournament.
Murphy also played well during qualifying, finishing at 4-over par.
"I think they'll both have very good seasons,'' Polites said of his 1-2 punch. "Both Michael and Jimmy have played in big tournaments and so they won't see or experience anything they haven't before. They have solid all-around games.''
Two freshmen -- Matthew McCarthy and Connor Eghigian -- will start the season as Althoff's No. 3 and No. 4 players. Both have played a lot of tournament golf and are established players.
Strieker and senior Taylor David also return after playing on the varsity last season while seniors Atlee Champion and Jeremy Schultz, complete the Crusaders eight-man varsity squad.
"I'm looking for us to have another good season,'' Polites said. "The standards are to be able top shoot 160 for a 9-hole match and 320 for 18-hole tournaments. But like last year, we're better then that. My goal is to be at 150-152 and then to be between 308-310 in tournaments. That's averaging 77 per player and I think that's very realistic."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2661.