The Hastings Raiders boy's golf team lost three very good golfers to graduation after last season, including multi-time state entrant Nick Dittrich. But do not make the mistake of thinking they won't be competing for a Metro East Conference title this year.
Last year, Hastings was near the top of the MEC and took fourth at sections, just three points behind third-place Lakeville North. Expect much of the same this season.
"I told them with the experience that we have back, the guys that have played varsity golf, certainly its right around as much as everybody else except for probably St. Thomas Academy, they return I think everybody," said head coach Pete McGinnis. "We finished second last year in the conference and we're hoping to do everything we can to win the conference."
While it will certainly be a younger Raiders team this year, they do bring back plenty of talent.
"We had one senior come out that wasn't out last year," he said. "(Junior) Terry Kuhn is back, he was All-Conference last year and just about qualified for state. Riley Biermeier, Sam Brown our (other) juniors. Then we've got some kids like Joey Benson, who's a sophomore, Charlie Williams is an eighth-grader, Ryan Swanson is an eighth-grader, and then we've got a number of kids who are right in the mix between the ninth and 11th grades who played a lot of JV and certainly once we can get outside and start seeing things we'll know more."
McGinnis said that a couple of those golfers he named had some varsity opportunities last season on top of being JV regulars.
Kuhn will be the leader of the group after what was a breakout season for him last year. McGinnis said he can tell that the junior has grown stronger and will most likely be longer off the tee, leading to easier shots into the greens.
McGinnis regularly stresses the importance of course management and said that will continue to be an emphasis this season, especially with some newcomers to varsity.
"Yeah, a little bit more on course management and making the decisions, the right decisions with the different courses that we play," he said. "That's kind of the thing, some of these guys haven't seen the courses that we're playing on the road and it's going to be important that we can get a game plan for everybody that they'll be able to play the course in a way that will best suit our team."
A new challenge for all golf teams this year are some major changes to the rules that went into effect Jan. 1, including being able to putt with the flagstick in.
"Oh yeah, absolutely," McGinnis said about doing more rules work this spring. "It's going to take a while and we've been working at it, they're certainly learning that they're going to see some things that happen that they're going to question whether it's right or wrong. We just want to make sure our guys know to take advantage of the rules and not rely on making that tough shot when they probably could have hit from a different spot. But it's going to take some time."
Watch the Raiders this spring and you will also see a slight change in style for the team with the departure of Dittrich and Jack Williams.
"We don't have the big hitters off the tee so I'm looking at finding the fairways and hitting greens," McGinnis said. "The kids seem to really have a better idea on how to control the ball, so we're not going to be spraying it all over the place. Setting ourselves up for that next shot is just so important and I think that's going to be one of our strengths."
It looks like Hastings will be able to get outside soon and has a full schedule ahead of them with 16 tournaments and matches, four of which are home for the Raiders. Kuhn and fellow junior Sam Brown are the captains this year in charge of leading 38 golfers spread across the varsity, JV and B squads. They start competition with a tournament at Bunker Hills-the site of the Class AAA state tournament-on Thursday, April 11. Their first home meet is against Henry Sibley and Simley on Thursday, April 18.