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Tin Cup

Kelly Walsh's Taj Sutherland drives his ball down the fairway during last year's Tin Cup match against Natrona County at Paradise Valley Country Club in Casper.

The high school golf season is a lot like an avalanche. It lays dormant for ages before the first practice allows golfers to the course throughout the state immediately. And just two days after the first practice date, Monday, is the first available meet day. All of that is with the hope each state meet (Sept. 20-21) can be conducted with favorable weather, which has not been the case in recent memory.

With that in mind, there’s no better time to take a deeper look into the golf season. Each season, each classification and each team all have their own respective things to watch going into the upcoming season.

Here’s a look at the top-5 storylines heading into the 2019 prep golf season.

1. Trojan demise?

Welcome to the new era of Kelly Walsh golf. Not only did both sets of Trojans graduate a lot of talent from teams that swept the boys and girls state championships the past two seasons, but their coach, Craig Marsh, left during the winter to coach golf at Hastings (Nebraska) College. That timing did allow Brandon Schafer to coach the Trojans through the short spring season, although he’ll be dealing with almost an entirely new squad.

The girls team loses its top two scorers, including standout Nicole Klungness, who tied for the individual lead after two rounds last year (Evanston’s Kyra Sponenburgh won the gold medal in a playoff hole). That means the bar is set high for Megan Griffin’s senior season and Barrett Lloyd’s junior campaign. Those two provide a good foundation, but how the rest of the squad fills out will dictate how close to a four-peat they can get.

On the other side of the aisle, the Kelly Walsh boys are slightly more poised for their third consecutive championship season. Russel Sprecher had a successful spring, setting himself up for a senior season alongside classmates Taj Sutherland, Dane Rasmussen and Austin Neuman. Rasmussen, Sutherland and Sprecher all finished inside the top 10 at last year’s state meet. Consistency will be the name of the game for them this season.

2. Closed chapter

Wyoming may never see a dominant girls golf career like the one fans were treated to in Caleigh Essert’s years at Torrington. The three-time state champion finished runner-up as a freshman and left other Class 3A golfers with only a spattering of medals by the time she left to golf at Arizona Christian. But now that she’s gone to golf at the next level, what’s left?

The presumptive favorite would be Rachel Stoinski of Lander, who finished second to Essert at last year’s state meet. (Sure, it was 32 strokes back, but she beat everybody else.) But Stoinski won’t go untested. Sierra Brubaker of Riverton and Darian Mehling of Buffalo headline a class of returners that will fight for their own real estate.

3. Hole town watching

A possible contender for the Class 3A girls crown is Jackson. Although the Broncs would most certainly be dark horses to win it all this fall, the possibility exists. They return their top three golfers from last year, including Jacqueline Neishabouri, who finished eighth at last year’s state meet. Classmates Vivian Herr and Martha Olson will need to step their games up as well in order for the Jackson girls to bring home the program’s first golf title.

Those girls finished fourth at last year’s state tournament with a combined 621. That’s 91 strokes more than Torrington, a credit to Essert and her graduated teammates’ dominance. But after that are Lander and Star Valley, both of which lose talent to graduation. Again, Jackson remains an extreme fringe contender but don’t be surprised if the Broncs put a charge into this season.

4. Ten for Tigers?

It would take a special season to sidetrack the Lander boys golden hopes this year. The Tigers return all three top golfers from last year’s state championship team that cleared the competition by 10 strokes. And if the Fremont County golfers are able to duplicate that success again this fall, that will not only make a third straight championship for the Tigers but a 10th overall.

In addition to golfers like Dominic Yates, Jaren Calkins and Wilson Brockie, who led the Tigers’ charge in last year’s state tournament, Lander will be aided by Gavin Dixon, who played a stellar spring season in order to integrate himself into the lineup further. So the rich just get richer.

5. Girls’ gamble

Participation numbers, especially in these traditionally smaller sports, always fluctuate. Throw in some relative unease from outside factors and it’s worth wondering what sort of year the upcoming season will be. That’s sort of the case with the Class 2A girls.

Wright has won the past two state championships. While the Panthers return the defending state champion in Vicky Van Vleet, they also lost their two other scorers. Lusk’s three scorers from last year graduated so the hosting Tigers will be stretching to field a team. Tongue River put the biggest team together last year albeit with a third-place finish out of three teams. So, realistically, what’s this year going to look like?

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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