A new coach, high expectations for a junior all-state player and plenty of optimism are the key items associated with high school golf this fall season for Flathead and Glacier.
It starts for both schools on Monday with a 36-hole event in the Electric City, the Great Falls Invitational.
Meadow Lark Country Club will host the first round with the final 18 holes to be played on Tuesday at Eagle Falls Golf Club.
The Class AA schedule includes invitationals in Missoula, Butte and Kalispell along with the Crosstown Cup. It ends with the state tournament action in Great Falls Oct. 3-4.
This will be the final year where all teams advance to state. That changes next season with teams and players having to qualify for state play via divisional action.
“I’m very optimistic,” veteran Glacier coach Jim Schaible said. “I think it will be a fun season. I’m looking forward to working with the kids. They worked hard over the summer.”
This marks the 13th season for the Wolfpack and Schaible has been there for all of them. He was an assistant for the first five before taking over as the head coach for the sixth season.
The boys return four players from last year’s state team — sophomores Keaton Cassidy and Will Salonen and juniors Ethan Purdy and Sam Manaker.
“Salonen and Cassidy put a lot of time in (over the summer),” Schaible said in preparation for the season.
“Manaker and Purdy played baseball again this year. It took awhile for them to get their game together (last year), but I have no doubt they will do it again.”
Schaible said sophomore Koby Kunda “really worked (on his game) this summer” while freshman Tyler Avery “played in a lot of tournaments around the U.S. I expect him to make a huge impact on our team.”
Schaible expects all six to be battling for varsity time every week.
“It will be very competitive,” he said.
“We could be a different team every time we go. The top three will be consistent, but there will be more flexibility after that.”
The girls also return four players with state experience in seniors Hailey Iverson, Abi Manger, Blayke Foppiano and Hannah Nikunen.
The team will get a boost with the addition of junior Alana Griffin. She moved to Montana from Texas a year ago.
Sophomore Stella Claridge is another player to watch for.
“The girls are going to be a respectable team, have decent scores,” Schaible said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised by the end of the season to (see them) finish in the top five (at state).
“The boys will be very competitive,” Schaible added.
“A good goal for them is a top three finish.”
The Glacier boys were fifth last year at the state meet in Butte. They finished 16 shots away from third place.
Cassidy and Manaker both shot 160 for 36 holes to tie for 18th place. They missed out on all-state honors (top 15) by four strokes.
The Glacier girls were ninth at state.
“The Bozeman boys, girls are the top teams,” Schaible said.
“Bozeman will be hard to beat, but I think we can contend with most everyone else.”
Junior Marcella Mercer has been a contender every year for medalist honors at the state meet. This just might be the year she pulls that achievement off.
She finished tied for fifth last year with a 160 total for 36 holes. That left her six shots behind the winner.
Her freshman season, she was eighth.
The Flathead girls, as a team, were seventh at state a year ago.
“She’s got the capability to push for a state title,” Flathead coach Roy Antley said.
“She worked hard this summer on her golf around the country.”
Mercer was active in tournament play outside of Montana those months.
“Consistency,” Antley said of what Mercer must focus on this season.
“Avoiding the big number and making big putts. She hits the ball solidly.”
The Bravettes other returning state player is sophomore Jillian Wynne.
“A good, young golfer,” Antley said.
“She came in last year and established herself as a solid varsity competitor. She worked hard and continued to improve.”
Freshman McKinlie Murer and sophomores Atlanta Waltman and MJ Reed will push for varsity time.
“She was an every day player at Buffalo Hill (Golf Club) this summer,” Antley said of Murer.
“Just worked her tail off. I’m excited to see what she can do.”
He said Waltman was “pretty raw starting the season” last year, but improved a lot.
Reed did not play last year, but worked on her game over the summer.
The Braves will field a younger squad for a second straight year, but at least one with more experience. Four players return from state play last year in juniors Ezra Epperly and Sam Huckeba and sophomores Drew Lowry and Joston Cripe.
Epperly was also a state player his freshman season.
The boys finished 14th at state last year and did not have an all-state performer.
“We didn’t have high placing last year, we were really young,” Antley said.
“But they got seasoning. They have worked on their game over the summer. They have made some improvement.”
Senior Carson Bauer will be counted on to help with the varsity scoring this fall.
“He has been with the program since his freshman year,” Antley said of Bauer.
“A good kid, hard worker. He will blossom this year.
“Ezra was our best player, our low scoring boy last year. Drew (Lowry) and Joston (Cripe) made big strides last year.”
This marks Antley’s seventh season with the FHS program. This will be his first year as the head coach.
He replaces Kyle Dunfee, who has accepted the activities director position at Custer County High School in Miles City.
“It’s big shoes to fill, but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“It should make the transition a little easier (having been an assistant coach here).”
Dunfee was the FHS head coach for three seasons.