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Panther golfers ready to tee it up

Powell High School has some big golf shoes to fill after losing three All-State players to graduation.

The golf teams — which start their competitive season today (Thursday) — are coming off a 2012 campaign in which the girls took second in Class 3A (also winning the Class 3A West Conference Tournament) while the boys finished third at state and runner-up at conference.

“We lost five seniors total ... so with those spots to fill, people may not have the same expectations of us here at the beginning of the year,” said PHS head coach Troy Hildebrand. “But I look for us to just try to get better each week throughout the season and hopefully — if we can be playing our best at the end, having conference at home — maybe we can have some of that same success that we had last year.”

First up is the Cody Invitational at the Olive Glenn Golf Course. Things start at noon today (Thursday) and 9 a.m. on Friday.

Leading the Lady Panthers will be two returning All-Conference players: Carli Brown and Mikala Fulton. Hildebrand noted the juniors were both integral members of last year’s winning team.

“They’ve had some success and they know kind of where we need to get to by the end of the year and I expect them both to have a really good year,” Coach Hildebrand said.

It takes three players to qualify for a team score on the girls side, so it’s welcome news that sophomore Stevi Smith has also joined the squad.

“She put in some work this summer and hopefully we can get her where she’s ready for a tournament at some point this season,” said Hildebrand. “I certainly expect her to be ready to go for the conference tournament in Powell.”

The coach is already excited that he could have all three Lady Panthers both this year and next.

“Hopefully we can use this year to build a really strong foundation and continue with the success that we had last year,” Hildebrand said.

On the boys side, the coach believes two-time All-State finisher Pax Mitchell is poised for “a really successful season.”

“We’re expecting him to definitely be our leader this year and kind of step into that role that Bowen (Prestwich) has had for the last couple of years,” Hildebrand said.

Another returning member of last year’s varsity squad is Jared Wantulok.

“He has a couple years of varsity golf underneath his belt, and as a senior this year, we’ll be leaning on him to be a pretty steady force at the top of our lineup, week in and week out,” Hildebrand said.

Senior Dillon Nix also brings some experience back to the varsity squad. Like Mitchell and Wantulok, Hildebrand said Nix worked on his game over the summer.

“He’s going to be a key piece of the puzzle for us and any successes that we have, we’ll need him to play the type of golf that I know he’s capable of,” the coach said.

A new face on the varsity roster is sophomore Robert Rodriguez, who played well in the opening days of practice.

“He’s got a lot to learn in terms of the whole process and everything that goes into being a varsity player, but he’s shown a lot of potential here early on,” Hildebrand said. “Hopefully getting his feet wet will give him a chance to build towards a pretty strong season.”

Junior Zane Henderson is also making the jump from junior varsity to varsity.

“He’s going to get his chance this year to step into one of those spots and hopefully be able to make some strides forward this year and some contributions for our team and then be ready to come back next year with a lot of experience,” Hildebrand said.

Senior Tyler Banning and sophomore Chase Lunberg also return for the Panthers squad this year.

“They’ll both be battling throughout the year to see if they can crack the lineup for traveling,” Hildebrand said.

Additionally, two freshmen, Austin Layton and Kyle Church, are out for golf.

As Hildebrand noted, the season is brief. It’s scheduled to end just a little over a month from now.

Powell is scheduled to play tourneys in Cody, Lander and Sheridan, then host the Class 3A West Conference tournament before heading to state on Sept. 27-28 in Buffalo.

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