BELLEVILLE — When Althoff golf coach Dan Polites meets with his golf team for the first time each year his opening message is clear.
"I always tell my team to enjoy themselves, obey the rules of golf and always play fair and never cheat,'' is what Polites has said on those occasions. "I've been blessed that in my years of coaching golf here at Althoff, we've had great kids who come from great and supportive families.''
Polites also has been blessed with outstanding players who as a result have combined their abilities to become great teams.
With a third-place trophy in 2010 and back-to-back Class 2A state championships the past two years, no other boys program in the state can match the success of the Crusaders.
After the brilliance of Sam Lidisky and Austin VonAlst paved the way for a 14-stroke win at Weibring Golf Course in Normal two years ago, Althoff won the 2012 championship on a fifth score tiebreaker in a rain-shortened 18-hole tournament, after both the Crusaders and Normal U-High finished with first-round 321 totals.
So what's in store for the Crusaders in 2013?
With three top three tournament finishes already to its credit, there is little doubt Althoff will once again be among the elite programs in the metro east.
The Crusaders return four of their top six players from their '12 title team in seniors Michael Johnson and Grant Strieker and sophomores Connor Eghigian and Matthew McCarthy.
In Johnson and McCarthy, the Crusaders have two of the top players in Southern Illinois, while Strieker and Eghigian both have the ability to shoot close to par on any given day.
"We have a number of young men who have played a lot of golf and played at a high level in high pressure events,'' Polites sad. "Michael (Johnson) has a third place and two state titles the last three years and Grant (Strieker) has been on the state title teams.
"Than last year Matthew and Connor were key players on the state title team. I think with these kids, there is a comfort level when they get to the state tournament. It's like 'we've been here and done this before.'
"They just go out there and play the game.''
Johnson has been playing well for a long time. A potential NCAA Division I recruit, Johnson has all the shots and ability to possibly contend for the individual state crown in October.
"Michael is just a great young man and he's our captain this year,'' Polites said. "He's had some ups and downs this summer with his game, but he's an excellent player. I know he'll have a good senior season.''
Strieker also returns for his senior year and Polites hopes this is the year, the talented Crusader blossoms.
"Grant has a lot of ability and I'm hoping this is the year he plays the way I know he can,'' Polites said. "Attitude-wise, I've noticed that he's taking it more seriously. I think he realizes this is his last year of high school golf and he wants to make the most of it.''
While Johnson and Strieker are closing out their high school careers, Eghigian and McCarthy are the future of Althoff golf.
McCarthy already has a pair of top 10 finishes to his credit this season.
But for Althoff to reach the state tournament for a fourth straight year, others such as sophomores Michael Cook, Garrett Hurst and Carson VonAlst and junior Neven Babic may need to step up.