(photo by David Jenkins)
After blowing through the local competition a year ago, the Bulldogs had their sights set on making a state playoff run. But that dream took a hit when they finished third in the district tournament by two strokes.
The team returns five of the top six varsity players from last year's 8-1 team, so expectations are high.
"Last year we had expectations of being at state and placing in the top five and we just didn't get through districts," said Sikeston golf coach Rick Oetting. "This year our plan is to get through districts first, and then take care of state when it comes. I still think with the quality of players that we have, we should be in that top five at state."
The Bulldogs' top two returning players from last year are Brandon DeWitt and junior Tanner Fritz.
"They should be stepping up in the leadership role," said Oetting of DeWitt and Fritz. "Brandon DeWitt has already done that. He's been exemplary in his actions. He was a soccer player, but he still managed to get out here and practice some. As soon as the season was over he was thinking ahead to golf. It takes that type of dedication to make it.
"Golf is a sport that some guys have a natural ability, but having the ability is not going to make you a championship player. It takes practice and dedication. That's something Brandon has shown this team and I hope a lot of people will follow his footsteps."
DeWitt and Fritz will be leading the way for a group of young golfers that have inexperience, but most don't have varsity experience.
Senior John Fuchs and sophomore Jonathan Spence each have played varsity golf, but freshman E.C. Atchison, junior Matt Hon and sophomore Matt Bain are three players that are a little green. Only Bain has seen varsity action.
"We've got a lot of kids that had junior varsity experience last year," said Oetting. "We are a young team, we've only got two seniors this year. Spence was a freshman last year that held one of the top three places, and we've got a similar situation with E.C. Atchison coming in this year. He's a freshman that's definitely earned his place on the varsity, but of course he's got to show it here in the matches under pressure."
Oetting feels he has plenty of depth with this year's team with many coming from a junior varsity that went 8-2 last year.
"Our junior varsity usually competes with a lot of the varsity teams that we play out here," said Oetting. "It's hard for a lot of schools to have six players and have four good scorers. There's a lot of teams that have two or three very strong players, but they don't have that depth. You look at our team, even into our junior varsity we have kids shooting in the low 40s. There's a lot of coaches that would love to have that option."
So Oetting has plenty to work with this year which has allowed him to set some lofty goals for his squad.
"I'm expecting a whole lot better because we were freshmen and sophomores last year with just a couple of upperclassmen," said Oetting. "We've got five of the six varsity returning so I really think we've got great expectations out of this group. They've got some solid years of playing and there's no excuse not for us to be one of the top teams around the area."
Sikeston will open the season at New Madrid County Central at 4 p.m. on Monday.
The Dexter Bearcats golf team should field one of the top teams in the area after finishing sixth in the state in Class 3A last year. It was the second year in a row the Bearcats placed in the top seven in the state.
"We should have a really good golf team this year and we should be competitive with everybody in the area," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "I've got three seniors that have been to state the last three years. And I've got a really talented group of juniors, including one that played with us at the state level last year. We've got a real deep varsity team this year."
The three seniors are twin brothers Kyle and Matt Christian and Chad Gill. Kyle Christian had the lowest average last year at 37 strokes. He took fifth place last year while Gill placed 18th in the state. Big things are also expected out of junior Ryan Jackson.
"We have the same expectations," said Sitze. "Our district is tough with Sikeston and Ste. Genevieve being our toughest competition. We expect to finish in the top two, get back to state and finish as high as we can. We want at least one of those two four trophies."