One year removed from sending three individual qualifiers to state, Dawson-Boyd boys golf returns in full force this week.
The Blackjacks earned their trip to the state meet, their first as a team since 2008, by capturing the Section 5A title on May 31 in Benson. With three returning individual qualifiers from the 2011 state meet, the Blackjacks have been focused on the state meet since the start of the season.
"The [three returning qualifiers] said the team could advance to state and that should be our goal," Blackjacks coach Dave Baldwin said. "You never want to overlook the next match, but it was on the radar."
The experience gained by Ryan Sumner, Aaron Lange, and Easton Popma at the state meet last year, coupled with depth, helped the Blackjacks capture awards all season long.
"Depth has a lot to do with it," Baldwin said. "Six guys who can shoot a low score."
Those six guys are seniors Sumner, Lange, and Jon Thensen, freshmen Popma and Spencer Erickson, and eighth-grader Christian Thoen. Such an age gap may hinder some teams, but not the Blackjacks.
"It's amazing how close-knit they are considering the age gap," Baldwin said. "They practice well together and play well together."
Paramount to the team's chemistry has been Sumner. After qualifying for state as an individual last year, Sumner has emerged as the leader of the 2012 Blackjacks.
"Ryan's a great kid, a great competitor, and a good leader," Baldwin said. "He's a calming influence on the team."
When asked what he has done to help his teammates this season, Sumner said, "I tried to show them how to calm over their nerves and help them when they're struggling."
His advice is not taken lightly, as Sumner has overcome his own struggles this season.
"I wasn't hitting [my irons] square at the beginning. I've been striking them really well lately,"?he said.
The Blackjacks, who earned their first Camden Conference title since 2009, have also relied heavily on another returning individual qualifier, Easton Popma. After qualifying as an eighth-grader last year, Popma is looking to rely on the support of his teammates to improve upon his performance from last year.
"I feel a little more consistent. My wedges have improved [from last year]," Popma said. "I'm confident that my teammates can shoot a good score and back me up."
Popma, who won a state title in November with the Blackjack football team, said he is more dialed in this spring.
"Football was a little different because more people were following it,"?he said. "But golf is more my sport, so I'm really focused right now."
Despite the experience from last year and success all season, the Blackjacks aren't putting any extra pressure on themselves heading into the competition.
"You want every guy to play average or better," Baldwin said, "but as long as they concentrate and do their best that's all we really ask.
"In terms of placing, we'll let the chips fall where they may."
Added Popma, "I just hope to have fun and I hope the seniors can have fun, too."
Popma, Sumner, and the rest of the Blackjack golf team seek to bring the second state title in the past year to the Dawson-Boyd community when they begin competition Tuesday morning at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker.