A year ago at this time, the St. Clairsville golfers were preparing for their first trip to the Ohio State tournament since the 1980s.

There was the obvious level of excitement on just achieving the feat of reaching the pinnacle of Buckeye State prep golf and it ended with an eighth-place finish at the Northstar Golf Resort in Sunbury.

With four of the five members of that team coming back, head coach Rick Oberdick built his 2012 schedule with this time of the year in mind.

“We played a lot of 18-hole matches and hopefully that will pay off for us because some kids and teams can’t stay focused that long, so all of our matches could make a difference,” Oberdick said.

The theory will be put to a test, starting Friday morning at the Scarlet Course at The Ohio State University in Columbus, when the Red Devils tee off in the Division II State Golf Championship.

The Red Devils reached the state tournament by virtue of their second-place finish in last week’s district tournament in Granville. They’ll begin the quest for what Oberdick hopes is a most productive weekend on the No. 1 tee at 9 a.m. Friday and every minute thereafter until 9:32 a.m.

“The kids are excited,” Oberdick said. “They’ve been here before and they’re treating it like it’s another match and they’re ready to go play.”

The Devils, who own a season match record of 174-10, will depart for Columbus Thursday morning. They’re scheduled to head directly to the course for their practice round.

“We’re going out there with the attitude that this is a work weekend and we’re trying to get the job done,” Oberdick said. “But, there’s also a fine line with that, too. You have to keep things balanced and loose or you might not play well. We’re focused on what we have to do.”

For every member of the Red Devils’ squad, this will be their first time on the par 71 OSU layout, which measures better than 7,000 yards.

“Our practice round will be very important,” Oberdick said. “We have to learn this course as well as we can. The bunkers and rough can eat you up on this course, so we’ve got hit the ball well off the tee and the greens are going to move (quickly) and they’re not flat.”

After playing north of Columbus in Sunbury last year, Oberdick thinks the trip to OSU will have more of a state tournament feel.

“That course was nice, but it just wasn’t OSU,” Oberdick said. “The kids are looking forward to seeing the course.”

The Red Devils’ top five has been an interchangeable group much of their careers.

Senior Zach Keylor is the leader with a 37.8 average for 9 holes. He was the co-medalist at last week’s district tournament.

“Zach’s ups and downs are usually between 72 and 76, maybe a 77,” Oberdick said. “He’s our most consistent player and it seems like he always comes through when we need it.”

Senior lefty Adam Jeffries averages 38.3 for 9 holes and has shown the ability to go extremely low. He owns St. C.’s lowest score of the season with a round of 69.

“Adam is a really smooth player,” Oberdick said. “When he’s hot, he can really post some good numbers.”

Senior Caden Myers checks in with a 40.5 9-hole average. Senior Jared Burghy is another solid player with a 40.7.

“Jared shot a really good round in the sectional and Caden has had a lot of good rounds, too,” Oberdick said.

The newcomer to the mix this season is junior Seth Vannoy. Vannoy averages 39.3 for 9 holes. He shot a solid round of 77 at the district tournament.

He’s the only player on the team without state tounament experience.

“The seniors have really taken him under their wings,” Oberdick said. “He’s really been welcomed to the team and been a very solid contributor.”

Getting off to a good start on Friday is imperative. Obviously, the tournament can’t be won during the opening 18 holes, but it can be lost.

“You have to go in focused and set yourself up well for Saturday,” Oberdick said. “You want to be in the top six, so you’re grouped with those teams on Saturday. Plus, you’re obviously playing with the better players, which is important. Every shot counts.”

St. Clairsville, which shot a 315 in the district, is grouped with players from Bryan and Chesapeake High Schools.

The Devils’ district score is the sixth best entering the tournament. Chagrin Falls posted a 309 in its district. Defending champion Springfield Kenton Ridge didn’t qualify back, but defending runnerup Canton Central Catholic did return after finishing second in its district with a score of 312.

Saturday’s groupings will be based on Friday’s scores.

The teams in seventh through 12th place will tee off at 9 a.m. and the teams in first through sixth will begin their rounds at 9:56 a.m.

“This course will eat people up and people could lose it quickly,” Oberdick said. “We hope to be in the top six after Friday and then see if we can make a run at it on Saturday.”

The Red Devils won’t be the only OVAC team in the field. East Liverpool, which defeated St. C. at the OVAC, sectional and district, will tee off at 9:56 a.m.

Win, lose or draw, the end of the weekend could be especially tough for Oberdick who will bid farewell to a senior class that has a four-year record of 543-77 in its career along with two OVAC titles and a district crown.

“It’s been a real luxury to have kids like this,” Oberdick said. “You usually don’t have five really good kids in one year, let alone four in one class. It’s just been a blessing.”

Along with the four-member senior class, Oberdick is also leaning toward stepping down as the head coach.

“Between losing those four kids, and it probably being my last season, it’s going to be a tough banquet,” Oberdick said.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleader-online