Hildebrand’s players have won two state championships and three conference titles as a team, plus two state championships, 20 All-State finishes and 41 All-Conference performances as individuals.
Next week, though, it’s Hildebrand who’s up for a big honor. The PHS coach is one of eight finalists for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s golf coach of the year.
For his part, Hildebrand says there are more deserving candidates and that the nomination “speaks a lot more to the high quality of players that I have been able to coach than anything that I have done.
“I would hope that one of the reasons I was nominated by my peers was because of the class and integrity that our players have shown on and off the course. I feel very lucky to have been able to work with the players that I have over my 12 years,” the coach said. “This job gets a lot easier when you have great kids that work hard to become very good golfers.”
His players, however, are quick to throw back the compliments.
“I have no doubt that Coach Hildebrand deserves this award,” said Tess Mitchell, a PHS golfer who just finished her senior year. “He has been supportive of every player through good rounds and bad.”
Cameron Nielson, a fellow 2013 graduate and golfer, agrees. He said the universal support was a motivator for the team.
“It showed that he (Coach Hildebrand) wasn’t just trying to get a state championship out of the deal. He actually cared about his players,” Nielson said. “He didn’t really care about how we played as long as we played honestly.”
“He told us that you can shoot 150 in a single round (which is not anywhere near good), but if we were honest and played with class, we were great players in his mind,” said Bowen Prestwich. Prestwich is likely a great player in everyone’s mind — claiming the Class 3A state title in 2011 and finishing fourth as a senior last year — but he said Hildebrand didn’t demand low rounds.
“He never asked his players to shoot a certain score. He asked us to play to our best ability on that specific day,” Prestwich said, recounting lessons about honesty, respect and humility. “That effort he required is what shaped me into the competitive golfer I am now.”
Mitchell, a two-time All-State finisher, said it’s “obvious that he helps us to improve tremendously, and I can see improvements in each player after every season.” She described the coach as dedicated to the team.
All three noted Hildebrand’s knack for lightening the mood with jokes and said they enjoyed playing for him.
“He had a really great sense of humor, but when it was time to get serious you knew, because he kind of changed into a different person,” Nielson said.
Illustrating a bit of the mix between silly and serious, Nielson recalled being ordered to do close to 100 push-ups after repeatedly struggling with some short game drills at practice.
“It was not a good situation,” he laughed. “But that made me want to get better as a player.”
Hildebrand said the mental part of the game is a focus for his coaching, trying to keep up his players’ confidence and positive approach.
“Golf is a great teacher of how to handle adversity,” Hildebrand said. “If you are going to be successful at it, you generally have to battle through some tough times. Helping players get better at that is what I try to bring to the table to help them be their best.”
The coach said that over the years, he’s developed a more individualized approach to practice that allows players to zero in on areas they feel need the most work.
As for the technical aspects of a player’s swing, Hildebrand says he’s no expert and sticks to the basics. He instead has been fortunate to have the aid of the “tremendously helpful” pros at the Powell Golf Club — first with West Hernandez and now Doug Conner.
Hildebrand also thanked his assistants: Tim Brus for the first four years and volunteer Bryan Borcher from 2010 through the present.
“These two have brought a lot to the success of our program,” Hildebrand said.
The success includes a girls’ Class 3A state title in 2001 and a conference championship last year. The boys, meanwhile, took conference in 2002 and 2003 and the state title in 2011. The PHS girls finished second at state this past year while the boys placed third.
Hildebrand has been named the Class 3A West coach of the year four times: as the top boys coach in 2003, 2008 and 2011 and as the top girls coach in 2012.
Hildebrand won’t be able to make the trip to Des Moines, Iowa, for Wednesday night’s announcement of the National Coach of the Year. The Powell High School coach did, however, offer a prediction for how he’ll fare with some of his trademark, self-deprecating wit:
“Of the eight finalists I firmly expect to finish in the top nine,” he said.
Prestwich, who counts Hildebrand as a friend, knows better.
“I am a much better golfer and an even better person because of Hildy,” Prestwich said. “He still says that he isn’t anywhere near qualified for coach of the year, but I know he is even if we finished dead last at every tournament.”