Whether the return of Daniel Kunantaev, who finished fourth at state as a freshman, and Justin Kent, who placed 12th as a sophomore, will be enough to leverage the Trojan team back into a state berth may be the biggest unknown facing coach Scott O?Hare this spring.
?I think we can still be pretty competitive, for sure at the league level,? said O?Hare. ?It will depend on which regional we get into, and how we?ve progressed between now and May to know if we can get a return trip to state as a team?or if there?s just a couple of guys going.
?I certainly have high hopes for Daniel and Justin to be back in the state tournament as part of our team or as individuals,? he added. ?I would look for those two to have a pretty good opportunity to be top-10 medalists.?
To earn a team berth, O?Hare will need to find two golfers to fill the void created in last year?s state foursome. Elliot Soyez, the Trojans? two-time regional champion, moved out of the district after placing sixth at state last spring as a sophomore, and Darren Enns graduated.
But Kunantaev and Kent, who log a lot of time on the golf course whenever weather permits, comprise a solid nucleus.
?Both are very seasoned and experienced golfers,? O?Hare said. ?Although Daniel?s just a sophomore, he?s proven he can compete at the high school level. Justin?s been a solid golfer all three years already and I expect good things there.?
Filling the void
One of the leading candidates to step up for O?Hare this year is Daniel Dick, who made the six-man varsity lineup last year as a freshman.
?He never quite got to the point that he wanted to last year, but it?s going to take a little bit of time,? O?Hare said. ?I expect him to make some good strides from last year. He?s a small kid, but he?s starting to grow and mature. He?s got a nice golf swing and has potential. With a little time and practice, I think he?ll be right there in the mix for us, to help out.?
Another potential varsity contributor from last year?s team is junior Jake Kenney,
?He played a little (Kansas) Junior Golf, but pretty well started in instructional golf as a freshman,? O?Hare said. ?He made some good progress between his freshmen and sophomore years, and I?m seeing even more progress from last year to this year.
?Jake seems to be wanting to work hard to find a place among those top six.?
Two newcomers to the team could turn into contributors as well.
?Jared King (sophomore) and Gavin Serene (senior) both have played with friends and family,? O?Hare said. ?They both started playing a lot this summer with Justin and Daniel and Elliot, before he left.
?So both have golf experience just by being out on the course. It?s not a new game to them, and both have a lot of potential to help us out. They seem to do a lot of things pretty well right now, and we?re working on some other things, primarily the short game?chipping and putting?to see them improve there.?
O?Hare said it?s too early to fill in all six openings on the varsity lineup card.
?That bottom half of the varsity lineup is just uncertain,? O?Hare said. ?I?ve mentioned those six guys, but I don?t know that the four I?ve mentioned besides Justin and Daniel are necessarily going to be the four that fill the varsity squad.
?It depends on how some people progress.?
Among the hopefuls are senior Alex Jost and sophomore Evan Just, who played junior varsity last season.
?I can already see improvements from a year ago, and it will depend on how they progress,? O?Hare said.
As he looks to the Mid-Central Activities Association, O?Hare sees perennial power Wichita Collegiate still in the driver?s seat. But the race for the next couple of spots is wide open.
?I think Hesston will be down, but I know they have a lot of kids around who play golf, so they?ll have lots to choose from,? he said. ?Marion has a number of kids back, and will probably be competitive again. But I think we?ll be right there in the mix among the top two to four teams.?
Rounding out the Trojans? 12-player squad are senior Frankie Martin, junior Rebecca Pankratz and freshmen Landon Herbel and Daniel Kenney.
Hillsboro will play its first tournament Tuesday, April 1. At press time, the Trojans were scheduled to compete at the Centre Invitational at Herington, although O?Hare said he was considering a late switch.
The following Friday, the Trojans will host the Hillsboro Invita?tional, starting at 2 p.m. at the Municipal Golf Course.
Hillsboro?s other regular-season home appearance will be Friday, May 2, as part of the Marion County Invitational, where teams play 18 holes at both the Hillsboro and Marion courses in the same day.
O?Hare said the Hillsboro course is being considered as a regional tournament site, although that is yet to be decided.
?There are some years where it almost puts added pressure on a team because it feels it should play well on the home course,? O?Hare said. ?Last year it didn?t seem to bother us much because we played pretty well on the day of the regional tournament.?