NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) — The four-day National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Men’s National Championship golf tournament at Newton’s Sand Creek Station has come to a close, with Hutchinson Community College’s two-year championship reign coming to an end.
Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) ran away from the 24-team field to win the team championship at -25 under par. Hutchinson finished in fifth at +9 over par. The Blue Dragons were the two-time defending Division I JUCO national champions.
They had their sights set on making it three in a row, playing right here in their back yard only 30 minutes away from Hutch. But the Blue Dragons fell behind in the early rounds and didn’t sink enough birdie putts to make a move toward the top of the leaderboard.
The signature red caboose welcomes the best junior college golfers in the nation to Sand Creek Station in Newton for the Division One national championship.
“It’s nice to have it here in the backyard and don’t have to travel as far, but it’s exciting to see the boys do well during the season and have the opportunity to compete here,” says Steve Saffell of Wellington.
Saffell and his family drove an hour each day from Wellington to watch his son, Hutch sophomore Blake Saffell, a JUCO All-American for the Blue Dragons.
“He’s proud to be on this team, you know, as competitive as it is. The team pushes him and makes him better, and just being part of a team that has the chance to be able to compete at these higher tournaments,” said Steve Saffell of his son.
The Blue Dragons have an international flavor, with four of their top-five golfers hailing from South Africa, Ireland, Sweden and England.
“We really pride ourselves on just trying to get the most elite golfers from anywhere in the country. Heck, we have Blake Saffell from Wellington, Kansas, who finished fourth in the country (as a freshman). The more success you have, the more of those that from around the world seek you out,” said Hutchinson Athletic Director Josh Gooch. “So, Chris Young, being the veteran coach that he is, he’s had an opportunity to be in contact with the coaches of those student-athletes and to get them to come to Hutchinson.”
“I feel like we’re a really, really close group, even though they’re like all from different countries, and I’m the only guy on the team here from America, but I feel like that doesn’t really change anything,” said Blake Saffell.
Gooch admits it’s nice to have at least one Kansan in the team’s top five.
“I’m a Wellington, Kansas native, so it’s nice to see somebody from my hometown have the success he’s had. An unbelievable young man. Does a great job on campus being an ambassador,” said Gooch. ” And just to see the success he’s had here at Hutch. Last year he finished fourth in the country. And this year, you know, right in the running for an All-American.”
Blake Saffell says his teammates do lean on him a little bit, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“They ask a lot of questions in the car because I have to give them rides everywhere they go. So, if they have a question to ask me, it’s usually in the car with me, taking them somewhere.”
The one thing the boys all have in common is their love of golf.
“I feel like it’s been our goal all year. I mean, every tournament has been important to us, but this is the most important one,” said Blake Saffell.