When the Class A state golf tournament tees off from Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker today, the field will be both familiar and fresh. Familiar because the top seven teams from 2012, including local qualifiers Dawson-Boyd and Murray County Central, return to the boys' field; and fresh for just the opposite.
Only two of the eight teams from a year ago return for the girls' meet. And while there will be several new faces at Pebble Creek, perhaps none are as new as those of the Minneota Vikings.
Minneota is making its first team appearance at the girls' golf tournament in school history. For a community that has grown accustomed to success at the high school ranks, its enthusiasm for the town's third state qualifying team in the 2012-13 season has not been tempered.
Independent file photo
Alyssa Engler is the only senior on a young Minneota roster that won the Section 3A championship to qualify for the Class A state tournament for the first time in school history. Engler and the Vikings will start action at the two-day state tournament today at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker.
"It's wonderful. I'm getting lots of comments from people around town and out at the golf course," Minneota head coach Ralph Hagen said. "Just people going out of their way to be nice and congratulatory, wondering how the team is going to do and all the ancillary questions that go along with that."
An extremely young team, the Vikings overcame a shortened spring and even a broken hip by their head coach to become the first Minneota golf team to reach state since the Viking boys' won their region in the early 1980s. Hagen said his team's youth (just two of the team's six golfers are old enough to drive) has actually been an advantage this year.
"They seem to go out and have fun with it," Hagen said. "They don't seem to get too worked up. They're so young that they don't know what's going to happen next. They seem to have fun with it.
"Pressure and stress are self inflicted, so if you keep thinking about the possibility of failure, it increases your chances for failure," he added. "We try to stay real positive and focus on making good swings and having fun."
Unlike the Vikings, the three individual qualifiers from the area for the girls' meet all were in the 2012 field.
Kyra Gores, of Lincoln HI, and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton's Hannah Kruger tied for 11th last season and each is looking to improve on that finish in a wide open 2013 field. Westbrook-Walnut Grove freshman Abby Herding tied for 48th last season and will also look to better her performance, starting today.
After finishing one stroke apart in the final team standings at the state meet in 2012, the Dawson-Boyd and Murray County Central boys' golf teams are back in Becker, along with five other teams from the 2012 field.
Despite returning three golfers from last year's third-place team, Dawson-Boyd head coach Dave Baldwin said there is no pressure on his golfers to improve on that standing. Rather, Baldwin just wants his team to go out and enjoy the experience.
"It's hard to say that we're trying to improve from last year. It's a different team every year," Baldwin said. "You just hope the kids go out and compete well and do their best. That's good enough for me. It's a good group of kids, they have a little talent, so you just hope they find their game and play their best."
Easton Popma is one of the three returners for the Blackjacks. After finishing in a tie for 11th as a freshman at Pebble Creek last season, Popma has been tearing through competitions in his sophomore campaign.
"I would just say that Easton has the all-around game," Baldwin said. "He hits the ball straight, he practices well and he's just a consistent, good player."
Popma, Christian Thoen and Spencer Erickson all have state tournament experience and have provided steady leadership for the team's three new members this season. Baldwin said that he expects their knowledge of the course to help ease their teammates into the tournament today.
"I think it will help them," Baldwin said. "They work hard at the game, they practice a lot and they're good players so I think having a year at state should help them.
"I think we have good leadership coming back from last year's team," he added. "We miss the guys we lost from last year, but that's high school golf. You're going to graduate guys. But the guys who have filled their shoes have done a wonderful job. We're real proud of them and we know they're going to do their best."
The Rebels, meanwhile, return four golfers from 2012's fourth place team and have their eyes set on the top prize, regardless if Legacy Christian Academy and Wabasha-Kellogg return the bulk of their first- and second-place squads.
"They're here, they want to play well and they want to win. Their goal is to be a state champion team," MCC head coach Kim DeLong said. "We've got four returning from last year, a seventh-grader that is new and a senior that wasn't with us last year.
"They played a practice round (Monday) and they played well, they hit the ball well and sank some nice putts," DeLong added. "We're hoping that we can do that the next two days and put up two decent scores."
Devin Erickson, Adam Christensen, Ben Loosbrock and Grant Everson all played Pebble Creek in 2012. Loosbrock finished in a tie for 19th as the top finisher on the Rebels.
In light of their lofty goals, one might expect a certain level of anxiety around the MCC golf team. According to DeLong, the team has remained calm all season and that isn't likely to change in its final meet of the year.
"They're relaxed. I think it helps that they've been out there and that they work well together," DeLong said. "If they're not hitting the ball well they go to the driving range and hit a few more balls until they're comfortable. They just need to remember that if you have a bad shot or a bad hole, you just keep on with a positive attitude."
The area's final qualifier was Dana Madson, of WWG. Madson returns to the state meet after tying for 29th as a junior last season.
The boys' meet is scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. with the girls' tournament teeing off at noon.