For the boys, Hildebrand hopes the five-member varsity squad is consistently a top five contender in this fall’s tournament competition.
“We had a really successful season last year and losing Zane (Bushnell) as an All State player (to graduation), that’s definitely a hit, but I feel like we have a team this year that is a lot like last year’s,” the coach said.
This year’s lone senior, Brian Morse, is himself coming off All State honors last year, having tied with Bushnell for fourth-place individually at the Class 3A tourney in Evanston. Morse is also a three-year letter winner.
“It’s really good to have someone like that as one of your leaders,” Hildebrand said.
Junior Bowen Prestwich, another returning varsity member, got his season off to an impressive start by shooting an even par 36 on Powell’s front nine during Monday’s team qualifier.
“He’s just continued to get better,” said Hildebrand.
A pair of freshmen — Jackson Roling and Pax Mitchell — leapt into the varsity lineup after Monday’s nine-hole qualifier.
“Although both of those are new, obviously, to high school golf, both of them have played a lot of golf and a lot of tournament golf,” said Hildebrand, saying that experience is a “huge bonus.”
Junior Cameron Nielson, a letter-winner last year who competed at state, returns to round out the varsity squad for the opening weekend.
Nielson “continues to get a little better each year, and hopefully he can give us a little goose out of that fifth spot this week,” Hildebrand said.
For the first time in years, the Lady Panther side of the squad has enough players to qualify for a team score (three scores are needed for girls, four for boys).
They’ll be led by junior Alyssa Hildebrand, who has earned All Conference honors her first two years and took 14th at state last fall.
“She’s done a good job this summer, making some improvement and becoming more consistent in a couple areas that should translate to better scores this year,” Coach Hildebrand said.
Fellow junior Tess Mitchell is beginning her first year with the squad, but the coach said she’s already put in a ton of time this summer.
“(Mitchell) did a great job preparing for her junior season and I expect her to step up and contribute right away,” Hildebrand said.
Two freshmen — Carli Brown and Mikala Hill — are also joining the Lady Panthers golf team this year
“It’s definitively early but they both have shown some positives,” said Coach Hildebrand, crediting their summer preparation. Because of the Lander course’s tough layout, the freshmen will make their tournament debut at next week’s Powell-Cody Invitational, the coach said.
“Hopefully by conference and state we’ll have all four of them playing, and all four of them playing at a pretty high level,” he said.
Three junior varsity boys will also make the trip to Lander this week: Zach Kienlen, a junior, and sophomores Dillon Nix and Jared Wantulok.
“All of those guys, they’ve done a good job to get to this point where they’re traveling at the beginning of the season,” said Hildebrand. He predicted some jostling for position on both the varsity and junior varsity squads.
“It seems like there could be quite a bit of competition for those spots to make the trips each week and that should make us better and keep everybody moving in the right direction,” Hildebrand said.
Tee-off time in Lander is slated for noon on Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday.