Of the 16 golfers set to tee it up for the Custer High School golf team this fall, four played in the state tournament last year and another saw varsity time throughout the season.
After a few years of being young and inexperienced, this year’s version of the Wildcats is one loaded with experience and depth.
Senior Austin Eggers is the top returner for the team, coming off a 22nd-place finish at the state meet, at which the Wildcats finished in 10th place. Also placing in the state meet was junior Dustyn Fish, who finished in 38th place. Fellow junior Gunner Prior and senior Dylan Polzine also competed in the state meet last year, while eighth grader Ryder Bailey also saw varsity time a year ago despite being in seventh grade.
“We have kids who have played varsity now for three, four, even five years,” head coach Paul Kelley said. “They know what it takes to compete for a region championship and get to the state tournament.”
Kelley marveled at the number of golfers who will play this fall, as well.
“I think this is the largest number of kids we’ve ever had in our program,” he said. “It’s great to see.”
There are four other golfers, seniors Justus Kramer and Zach Douglas and sophomores Matthew Merrill and Ethan Lappe, who Kelley said are capable of competing for a varsity spot this fall.
The Wildcats played their first two competitions Monday and yesterday, and Kelley said the team has been able to get practice in despite the constant rainy weather.
“It hasn’t been too bad. We’ve been playing,” he said. “We have some kids who are new to golf. We’ve been spending time with them, working with them on learning how to swing a club and things like that.”
With the returning talent on the team, Kelley anticipates once again being one of the best teams in the region, just as it was a year ago when it won the region meet. Kelley likes the team’s chances in the conference race as well, while saying Spearfish, and potentially St. Thomas More, could also be contenders for the Black Hills Conference crown.
When it comes to the state meet, which will be held in Vermillion this year, Kelley said it’s realistic for his team to expect a top-six finish—or higher—and for Eggers, Fish and possibly others to place high in the meet as individuals. Eggers could go as high as top 10 or top five, he said.
“We just have to play golf. We have the kids. Golf is such a mental game,” he said. “We need the other kids to have that mental toughness and battle through the conditions and pressure and play the best they can.
“The only bad thing is you’re playing East River. It’s courses we aren’t familiar with. They’re a little longer and you have to deal with the wind. You see some different elements, but it’s a fun course.”