A familiar refrain the last few years about the Hastings girls' golf team has been how young and inexperienced they are. But no longer.
While technically still young, the team comes back this spring with plenty of experience and the ability to surprise some people.
"I'm really looking forward to this season, we should finish higher than we did last year (in conference)," said head coach Becky Hartung. "Last year we finished fourth. I've got two seniors and the bulk of our experience is ninth- and 10th-graders. It's still a young team, but more experienced. And I think this year we're going to have a lot of going back-and-forth between varsity and JV. (We'll have) more kids exposed to the varsity because we have kids who are at a higher level, we have a lot of kids at a higher level. It's going to be nice to be able to filter kids through varsity. (There's) a lot of potential coming up this season."
The Raiders were playing well at the end of the 2018 season-they advanced to the second day of sections for the first time in a few years-and Hartung wants to be able to keep that momentum going.
"When you're playing good, when you're winning, you feel good about your game," he said. "Just the confidence, it's a confidence-builder for the start of the season. Just relying on their confidence from last season and feeling good about their game, that's a big thing. If they feel good about their game, comfortable with their game, they're going to play well."
Seniors Sam Benson and Hannah Hubbart are this year's captains and key returners. Hannah Hubbart has been a fixture on varsity for years and has earned All-Conference honors.
And then there are the younger golfers who are proving just as promising.
"Megan Brown, who's a ninth-grader, she really came on strong (last season)," Hartung said. "She was playing second and third (spots on varsity) last year and she's going to be a strong leader in the lineup also. Lauren Hubbart played a little bit (on varsity), Lauren Skov played a little bit and I'm just looking for the kids who played some JV last year to get into varsity."
Expect a variety of different lineups for the Raiders this spring as Hartung gives many golfers a chance on varsity in search of the best combinations.
"Every season is different and we have a lot of spots to fill and whoever is on top, whoever is scoring, we're going to transition them into varsity," she said. "So the lineup may switch match-to-match. We're looking at taking the top two or three JV and the bottom three varsity and keep switching them through the lineup."
There are numerous other young golfers you can expect to make a leap this season and perhaps earn a varsity spot.
"Madison Daley was coming on strong last year. Bella Meier, they really had their games together throughout the year. Ashlyn Endres. There was a really strong group of eighth-graders last year who are now in ninth-grade," Hartung said. "Brooke Jackson, Shea Levos, they played a lot of JV last year and they were looking pretty good. Emma Langenfeld, there are just a lot of ninth- and 10th-graders this year with a lot of potential. When they start playing we'll see where their games are at."
As she has done in the past, Hartung said she will continue to emphasize the short-game, where she says the most strokes can be saved on or around the greens. Last year she incorporated some new aspects into their preparation and is adding mental training with Dr. Cindra Kamphoff this season.
"We did some fitness, we called it 'Workout Wednesday'. I introduced them to some golf stretches and golf exercises that they can use throughout the season, some mobility and flexibility exercises," she said. "And we're going to talk a little bit about nutrition too. What you put in your body, they're taking explosive swings, they're probably walking four to five miles with their clubs, what they put in their body before they perform is very important."
The only real change to the schedule this year is that the Raiders will be participating in a two-person, best ball tournament in White Bear Lake. Hannah Hubbart and Benson are the only seniors on the team and there are just two juniors-Marissa Miller and Olivia Otto. Hartung finished by saying that the goal this year is to find the best lineup.
"You always want to get better as a team, the goal is just finding that sweet six by the time we get to conference and having the top team that we can have going into the conference championship and into sections," she said. "I think we're going to be a real competitive team this year."