The Bulldogs, under sixth-year coach Rick Oetting, tee it up for the first time in 2005 on Monday in a dual match at New Madrid County Central.
Oetting has three experienced seniors at the top of the rotation with a group of promising young players vying for the remaining spots.
"They're jockeying for positions right now," said Oetting. "We're looking for No. 4 and No. 5 and that's up for grabs."
The top three positions are solid with returnees Atchison at No. 1, senior Darris Butler at No. 2 and senior Martin Schaefer at the No. 3 spot.
Atchison, wrapping up a stellar prep career, has been a state qualifier in each of the three previous seasons. He has improved his finishes in each succeeding state tournament, going from 58th in 2002 to 23rd in 2003 to medalist with a 12th-place finish last season.
Said Oetting, "E.C. really works at it and he's worked on his swing with a top-
ranked professional in the offseason. He's looking at (shooting) even par quite often.
"And mentally, he's so strong that he'll help the young guys come along with his leadership."
Schaefer has gone to state the past two seasons, finishing 90th in '03 and 78th last season and Butler has raised the level of his play to move up from the No. 5 or 6 position last year to No. 2.
Presently, frontrunners in the hunt for the No. 4 and 5 positions are first-year senior Tradd Hess, junior Trey Oetting and sophomore Garrett Wagoner.
"They've got a little more experience and that gives them an edge," said Oetting, "but I have a feeling that this may shift back and forth between several people early in the season."
First-year senior Zed Hagen and juniors Jared Kruger and Curtis Arnold are the other upperclassmen vying for playing time.
Six freshmen hopefuls, Dee Bizzell, Billy Green, Joseph Bowman, Clay Tongate, Blaze Schrieber and Christopher Schultz, complete the team.
"I've got a feeling that we've got a few freshmen who are really going to come along as the season progresses," said Oetting. "If not, I'll have a good base coming back for next year, anyway. These are kids that I think will dedicate themselves (to the sport)."
Oetting, who has produced four district champions at Sikeston High School, likes this team's chances to capture another.
He said, "Realistically, we know we're down a little bit this year, but I know that, in Class 3, all of the teams are down a bit, so we've got a good shot at a district championship. It all depends on that Nos. 4 and 5 man by the time we get to districts. I really think the Class 3 title is up for grabs and that's our goal, to be the district champs."
A MSHSAA change mandates that only district champions advance to state this year, contrary to past years when two teams from each district qualified.
Sikeston competes in District 1 with De Soto, Dexter, Farmington, Festus, Fredericktown, North County, Cape Girardeau Notre Dame, Perryville and Ste. Genevieve.
The Bulldogs get an early look at many of their district opponents at the upcoming Notre Dame Tournament held at Bent Creek Golf Course in Jackson after Spring break.
"That's when we'll really get a chance to see how the team is going to look," said Oetting. "It's a great tournament that brings teams down from as far north as Ste. Genevieve and from the west like Poplar Bluff. We'll also see some district opponents that we won't face during the year."
Oetting offered a final note on the Bulldog golf program.
The team splits practice sessions between the Bootheel Golf Club and the Sikeston Country Club, which Oetting views as a major plus.
"We've been very blessed to have two courses," he said. "That's one of the things that helps our team develop. We get to see two different courses and two different surfaces. When you travel, it makes the players more adaptable to different course conditions.
"And we get great support from the professionals at both courses, who donate their time helping the kids. You couldn't ask for a better support system than what we have here."