When the Ironwood Ridge boys’ golf team won the 5A-II state title Nov. 5-6, it was the culmination of a long and taxing but ultimately rewarding season for the golfers and head coach Ryan Bais.

“We have had different issues we have had to deal with, but in the end it made us all better and closer as a team,” said Bais. “We did things the ‘right’ way this season.”

According to Bais, just how “right” 2008 was can be seen in the number of school records the team shattered this season.

Ben Esparza had a banner year, breaking the nine-hole record by shooting 3-under-par 33 two times. He stepped up in the state finals, also breaking the 18-hole record with a 66.

Team records weren’t safe, either, as the Nighthawks broke the 9- and 18-hole team records by shooting 143(-1) on nine holes and 287(-1) on 18 holes. 

“We didn’t take any days off and worked extremely hard to get to the top,” said Bais. “The team was more focused and dedicated than any group we have ever had before.”

That dedication also led to success on a state level.

Ironwood Ridge won its first super regional in school history, led by Esparza, Alex McMahon, Anthony Grijalva, James Demorest and Steven Ortiz, and took home a second consecutive 5A-II Southern region championship.

“We broke the school records for regional and state scores with a 583 (+7) at regionals and a 589 (+13) at state,” said Bais.

The Nighthawks also won the Santa Rita Invitational and placed second at the Rio Rico Invitational.

Racking up gaudy statistics and smashing records was important, according to Bais, but equally important was the growth the third-year coach saw in his athletes.

“This is the first senior class since I have been coach that I have watched develop and grow,” said Bais. “They started as young boys and developed into hard-working, focused and driven young men.”

The drive and success achieved by the Nighthawks in 2008 is even more impressive considering where they came from.

“When I took over three years ago they were coming off an 8-7 record and did not qualify for state,” said Bais. Over the next few seasons, the athletes worked hard to change the work ethic of the program, and 2008 was simply another step in the process, the coach said.

“Everyone improved a ton, from top to bottom,” said Bais. “Our top three played steady all year and then stepped up big at state, James Demorest improved from last year and Steven Ortiz stepped up big this year and made our team unbeatable.”

Unbeatable as the Nighthawks were, it would seem that, for a coach, on-course victories would stand out the most. Not so for Bais.

“I think the most memorable moments are the ones off of the course,” said Bais. “Riding in the van, hanging out at the hotel, going to dinner together. Those are when you get to know the kids away from the course and away from their parents.”

As special as 2008 was for Bais, 2009 looks like it might be just as memorable.

“The future looks good. Whenever you return two players like Ben and Alex, they will always give you a shot to win,” said Bais. “We also return (freshman) Austin Sverdrup, and I know there is a good group of eighth graders coming in that are very serious about the game of golf.”

Bais, too, is serious — about a Nighthawks’ dynasty.

“I feel we do not have to rebuild,” said Bais. “Simply reload.”

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