“We’re traveling in a VW bug this week,” quipped PHS coach Troy Hildebrand.
Fortunately, it’s only a temporary problem as 15 boys and girls are out for the team this year.
Hildebrand said the boys are a little thin on varsity experience, but he hopes to see the team playing its best by the time of the Class 3A state tournament in Cody. The team finished eighth at state last year.
Meanwhile, PHS has exactly enough girls — three — to qualify for a team score and Hildebrand said it looks to be a pretty solid team.
In addition to junior Stevi Smith, seniors Mikala Fulton and Carli Brown are not only coming off all-conference campaigns, but also played on a 2012 team that won the Class 3A West Conference championship and finished second at state.
“They’ve had some experience with success, so hopefully they kind of remember those things,” Hildebrand said. The Powell girls finished sixth at state last year.
Fulton individually finished as runner-up at the 2013 Class 3A West Conference Tournament and then fifth at state.
“She had a really strong finish to her junior season and she’s come a long ways in her four years,” Hildebrand said. “With her experience and the success that she had to finish up last year, I would say that I would expect her to have a really solid senior season.”
Brown also had a strong finish to her junior campaign a year ago — making all-conference while missing all-state by just one spot.
“She put quite a bit of work into her game this summer and just has continued to show improvement,” Hildebrand said. The coach said Brown gets the most out of each round and, like Fulton, has shown a lot of improvement during her years in the golf program.
“I think that gives her a chance to have a great senior season as well,” Hildebrand said.
Smith, who competed at the 2013 state tournament, is in only her second year of playing the sport competitively.
Now with some tournament experience under her belt, Hildebrand hopes Smith is in a position to make a big leap forward in her scoring and comfort level. The coach said Smith did a nice job becoming involved with the team last year and “hopefully some of that work will pay off this year.”
The boys’ most experienced and accomplished player is senior Pax Mitchell, a three-time all-state player. His scoring average a year ago was a stellar 78.4 and he finished sixth at state.
“He’s had a great career already and certainly has done everything in his power to prepare himself for a successful senior season,” Hildebrand said. “I certainly expect him to be our leader throughout this fall season on the boys’ side and really help us grow as a team with some of the young players that we have.”
Fellow senior Zane Henderson, who’s got varsity experience and some summer tournaments under his belt, will also be counted on this fall.
Henderson has gotten better every year, Hildebrand said, adding, “The way he’s playing right now is probably the best golf I’ve seen him play — and I know he’s worked hard to improve his game.”
Junior Robert Rodriguez, who also has some varsity experience, will be leaned on by the Panthers, too.
Rodriguez “has done a nice job continuing to improve along the way and working hard during summers to gain a little bit more experience,” the coach said.
Another junior, Chase Lundberg, may also need to move up from junior varsity to the varsity squad. Lundberg came into the program completely new to the game, Hildebrand said, and “he’s shown quite a bit of growth over these first couple seasons.”
“We’ll be counting on him to do a little bit more for us,” Hildebrand said.
The remainder of the squad is a mix of underclassmen who will battle for spots.
“We definitely have some younger players that have some experience and hopefully we can continue to expose them to a little bit more tournament-style golf instead of golf with grandma,” Hildebrand said.
Only Brown, Mitchell, Henderson and Rodriguez will be able to travel to Riverton, meaning both the boys’ and girls’ squads will have too few players to post team scores.
Hildebrand expects to field a full team for the next tournament, on Sept. 4-5 in Buffalo.