Flathead and Glacier will get an early indication of how they will fare against AA competition on the links this fall as all 14 schools will be in attendance for the season golf opener today at the Great Falls Invitational.
Play starts at 9 a.m. at Meadow Lark Country Club. The final 18 is set for Tuesday, 9 a.m., at Eagle Falls Golf Course.
“We’ll know more about the teams after Great Falls,” Flathead coach Jess Roper said.
“This is our state preview.”
Another invitational follows in Missoula Aug. 25-26.
The 7 1/2-week season ends with the AA state meet in Bozeman Oct. 2-3.
For Northwestern A teams, they also open with a preview meet of sorts on Wednesday with the Whitefish Invitational.
All five league teams — Columbia Falls, Frenchtown, Libby, Polson and Whitefish — will be in attendance.
Play starts at 1 p.m. with the boys on the South Course and the girls on the North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club.
The Polson girls are three-time defending state champions.
The A state meet is Oct. 3-4 in Hamilton.
Two all-state players return in junior Ryan Keenan, who tied for 10th last year at state, and senior Jenna Jensen, who tied for 11th place.
“He’s one of those kids who wants a state title,” Roper said of Keenan.
“He’s pushing for that this year.”
Keenan last year shot a course record 7-under-par 63 at Village Greens at the Flatfish Invitational.
Jacob Welch, a senior, Matthew Marshall, a junior, and Nick Weaver, a sophomore, are the other top players for the Braves.
Roper said the Bravettes will have two leading candidates this year in Jensen and senior Morgan Knutson.
“ They are shooting the same scores,” he said.
“They are neck-and-neck.”
Juniors Morgan Corkish and Liz Lorentz will also contribute.
Roper said the exciting thing for the girls is the program will finally field a junior varsity squad this year thanks to a good turnout.
“Our whole goal this year is to put some pressure on Glacier,” Roper said.
“We went to contend with Glacier.”
The Braves were ninth and the Bravettes 12th at state last year.
The Wolfpack streak of six-straight state trophies for either first, second or third place finishes ended last fall as the boys came in sixth at state. They won their first outright title in 2012.
Led by three returning state placers — seniors Cody Sherill and Scott Larson and junior Tom Mann — the Wolfpack should bounce back.
Mann tied for fifth at state last year, Sherrill tied for 10th and Larson tied for 15th.
Coach Jim Schaible, in his second season, said that trio “played in tournaments throughtout the state” over the course of the summer.
Sam Stern, a senior letterman, will also be a key contributor.
“A very good solid core,” Schaible said of the foursome.
“I think they will be contenders.”
All the attention for the girls will be focused on junior Teigan Avery as she looks to defend her individual title. She edged Kortney McNeil of Billings Senior by a stroke last year at state with her 72-73—145 total.
McNeil won the 2012 title, edging Avery by two shots.
“Very busy,” Schaible said of Avery’s summer.
“She golfed in tournaments from California to West Virginia. She did some good things in those tournaments and gained a lot of experience.”
Senior Kyersten Siebenaler and sophomores Mckenna Tinseth and Mckenna Hulslander all played at state last year and are back for another go.
Gene Marcille, in his 26th season as head coach, said he has a good turnout with more than 20 athletes. Of that number, nine are girls.
Henry Chisholm is the lone senior on the roster. This will be his fourth year in the program. He qualified for state as a sophomore and junior.
Chisholm recently had an appendectomy, “so he will have a slow start” this season Marcille said.
David Love, a junior, qualified for state his freshman season.
“High expectations,” Marcille said for Love.
“Same for Henry. He has a really good shot to get back at state.”
For the girls, Ali Gould, a sophomore, and Shea Lefebvre, a junior, are the only returners with experience.
Ashley Trueblood, a standout softball pitcher, is out for the first time.
“She decided to give golf a try for her senior year,” Marcille said.
“She has no golf experience, but she’s a gifted athlete. She’s one of those kids who likes a challenge.”
Columbia Falls will host the Northwestern A divisional at Meadow Lake Resort on Sept. 25.
Coach Tim Olson, in his third year, lost some talented players to graduation, but still returns a seasoned crew.
Back from last year’s second-place state finish are seniors Cody Olson and Mitch Young and junior Joey Walp.
Cody Olson has been to state three times, Young twice and Walp made his first trip last year.
“Walp is coming off a back problem, so he is questionable at best,” Olson said.
Art Doorn, a three-time state player, has graduated while Cooper Donahue has moved to Oregon.
“Losing our 1 (Doorn), and 2 (Donahue) from last year and our No. 4 (Walp) is down, so we are looking for some younger bodies to fill in some spots,” Olson said.
He said the program is enjoying a “great turnout” with 38 players on the course.
“We can dig deep and find some kids who need tournament experience to get them going in the right direction,” Olson said.
The girls lose Erin Tabish to graduation, last year’s state champion and a four-time state placer.
“We have a great core coming back,” Olson said.
Leading that group are seniors Malia Morris and Georgia Donaldson and junior Katie Fyall.
Fyall was sixth at state last year. The girls finished second as a team.
Whitefish also picked up a key player this summer with the addition of Coral Schulz, a junior transfer from Helena Capital. She finished third last year at the AA state meet.
“We’ll be real solid with those spots,” Olson said of his top four players.