COLLINSVILLE — Mention the name Keenai Sampson to Collinsville boys golf coach Dan Munoz and you're bound to receive several reactions -- all positive.
One of the top players in the Southwestern Conference for the past three years, Sampson's rise to the top has been quick. Basically a beginner when he entered Collinsville High School as a freshman after playing the sport seriously for just over a year, Sampson concluded his career as a two-time Class 3A state tournament qualifier and one of the top players in Kahoks history.
But Sampson's exploits on golf courses around the state aren't what Munoz will remember most.
"Keenai is a great kid. To tell you what kind of kid he is, I actually shed a few tears when I was talking about him at the awards banquet the other night,'' Munoz said. "His attitude and the way he carried himself both on the golf course and in the hallways of Collinsville High School personified the type of first-class kid he is. Keenai did everything the right way.''
Chosen as the Belleville News-Democrat co-Player of the Year for the 2013 season, Sampson also played first-class golf.
Sampson finished the regular season 1-under-par with a nine-hole average of 35.3. He won the Effingham St. Anthony Tournament with a 69, then won the Madison County Tournament at Gateway National Golf Links with a 4-under 67.
Sampson's postseason, although not as spectacular, was still impressive. The lone metro-east player to qualify for the Class 3A state tournament, Sampson shot rounds of 78 and 75 to finish tied for 19th at The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington.
"It was a good year. I got to break through into the 60s a few times,'' Sampson said. "It wasn't a great year though. I know I could have placed a lot higher at state. I just didn't come through.
"At regionals, I kind of got the hooks. I got it figured out eventually and I got to state. That was the main goal.''
But for now, the clubs are put away for a few months. Playing nonstop from mid-march to mid-October caused Sampson to experience a little "burn out."
He is currently enjoying his senior year, while also sorting through and working on finding a college to attend, where he can play golf.
Valparaiso University in Indiana and Carthage College in Wisconsin are among his top choices.
"Valpo would be nice and Carthage is a (NCAA) Division III school. But there are lot of courses up there and the athletic facilities are fabulous,'' Sampson said. "I haven't taken my official visits yet. I'm still looking at some places south as well.''
"Playing as much as I did, I was burnt out. I needed a break.''
Sampson also shot a 68 at the Southwestern Conference Tournament, where he placed second, then qualified for his second state finals.
Sampson tied for 86th at the 2012 state finals, firing an 86 in the rain-shortened event.
But this time, the Kahoks senior was aiming for a top 10 finish. The opening round 78 hurt his chances.
"The 78 was not what I was hoping for. I missed seven makeable putts that day and I felt good about my putting when I got to the state finals,'' Sampson said. "The greens were fast, but it was the state tournament. You've got to have fast greens.
"To be honest about it, I was a little nervous. But I had gotten there. I just wanted to go out and play. Actually I was more excited about the trip then the actual tournament. The coaches are great guys and we just have a lot of fun.''
Sampson came out hot in round two.
Birdies on his first two holes revived hopes of a possible top 10 finish, before he settled for a 3-over-par 75.
Included on the last day were consecutive 40-foot par saving putts.
"That was insane,'' Sampson said, laughing. "I had some friends who came up to watch and they were going nuts.
"The next hole I had a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole and missed. I guess it was out of my range.''
Sampson plans on majoring in international business in college. But he thinks he's ready for the challenge of college golf.
"I know I can compete at the college level,'' Sampson said. " But in order to become a top-tier player, I know I've got to improve in all areas.''