For up and coming golfers, earning a spot on the podium at the Class AA Boys' Golf Tournament is always a challenge. This fall, the task will perhaps be even more difficult than usual, as the top four golfers from last year’s state tournament will all tee it up come tournament time at Hillsview Golf Club in Pierre in early October.

It should be a daunting task as defending champion Will Grevlos, who carded a state tournament record 138 last season in leading his Sioux Falls Washington teammates to a state title, returns as do Bryce Hammer (Sioux Falls O'Gorman, 146), Jack Lundin (Sioux Falls Roosevelt, 149, 2015 state champion) and Austin Hoss (Pierre, 151).

On the team front, O’Gorman would appear to be the team to beat as few teams will match its depth. In the opening round of the Warrior Invitational on Monday, four Knights shot 75 or better, led by last year’s runner-up Hammer and Justin Kolb with 72’s.

“O’Gorman would seem to be the favorite but you can’t rule out any of the Sioux Falls schools or Pierre,” Sturgis coach Steve Keszler said. “Home course is such a big advantage in golf and Pierre will be at home and has some kids who can play.”

Locally, new Rapid City Stevens coach Nick Rotella inherits a gifted group of young golfers led by senior Lane Jensen who led the Raiders to a 6th place finish last year with an 8th (157) place individual finish at the state tournament.

Jensen opened the 2017 season on Monday carding a 72 in Sioux Falls while junior John Young added a 77.

While golf is an up-and-down sport for even the most experienced golfers, first year coach Nick Rotella is much impressed with the depth and talent of his young squad.

“We have eight or nine kids on our team that on any given day can shoot in the 70’s and so if we are clicking, it wouldn’t be beyond on my expectations to win the state tournament,” Rotella said. “It would probably be considered an upset by some but I know the kids can do it.”

In the Class A ranks, the situation is similar as defending champion Jacob Lee of Parkston returns along with runner-up Nick Lust of St. Thomas More. Lust finished a shot out of the top spot while leading the Cavalier’s to a second place finish behind Tea Area last season.

Here’s a brief look at the prospects of area teams heading into the 2017 high school season:

CLASS AA BOYS:

Rapid City Stevens - Coach: Nick Rotella (1st season); State Finish, 2016: 6th; Returners: Lane Jensen, tie-8th; Ryan Nolan, tie-25th; Payton Phares, tie-31st; John Young & Ben Daane, tie-35th; Coach’s quote: “We have two or three seniors who are backed up by seven or eight underclassmen coming up that will assure that we have a quality program for quite a while.”

Rapid City Central - Coach: Jeremy Noyes; State Finish, 2016: 16th; Returners: Cameron Kor, tie-80th; Alex Duran, tie-86th; Tyler Eberle, 94th; Carson Levin, 99th; Coach’s quote: “We have four kids who played in last year’s state tournament though we are still pretty young with Tyler the only senior on our roster. We are pretty inexperienced and it’s pretty evident that our kids need to put more time into the sport in the summer in order to compete with the best players in the state."

Douglas - Coach: Amy Rowe; State Finish, 2016, 17th; Returners: Tyler Divis, 90th; Jaden Heintzman, 95th; Derrick Brown, tie-96th; Andrew Corbine, tie-96th; Tate Dewey, 100th; Outlook: The Patriots return experience. Hopefully improved level of play will result.

Sturgis Brown - Coach: Steve Keszler; State Finish, 2016: Tie-12th: Returners: J.D. Keszler, tie 19th, Tice McVey, tie-41st; Noah Ziegmann, Devin Wolters, 98th. Outlook: Coach’s quote: “The juniors will be our leaders and we hope as the season goes along to get the other inexperienced players playing better. We are hoping to compete in the Black Hills Conference. Spearfish is very tough but we are hoping to continue to get better.”

Spearfish - Coach: Eric Ligtenberg; State Finish, 2016: Tie-2nd in Class A; Returners: Drew Gusso, tie-11th; Jesse Sacrison, 23rd; Dawson Sundsted, tie-25th; Sam Grout, tie-3dnd; Outlook: Spearfish moves into the Class AA ranks this season after finishing in a tie for second in Class A in 2016. The Spartans do return a veteran squad and will need every bit of that experience to contend at the big school level.

CLASS A BOYS

In the Class A ranks, STM, looks to be the cream of the crop locally. Senior Nick Lust, who captured medalist honors (72) at the Sturgis Invitational on Monday, will look to improve upon a second place finish behind Parkston’s Jacob Lee in last year’s state tournament.

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Joining Lust will be state returnee’s juniors Carter Janssen (tie-51) and Strider Jacobson (tie-69). Freshman Cade Jacobson will likely vie for a spot on the finals squad as well.

“We return one senior in Nick Lust. Nick has proven he is one of the top golfers in the state, he can shoot in the 60s and low 70s and he is an absolute blast to coach. He scored a 32 on his ACT so I'm waiting for him to shoot the same on nine holes,” Cavalier Coach Andy Shaw said. “Strider Jacobson and Carter Janssen, both juniors, also return from last year's State team.

"Our goal is the same as last year; place in the top three at region to qualify for State (at Dakota Dunes this year) and then give ourselves a chance again this year to bring home the Championship. I know we have the right balance and right mentality and hopefully everything will fall into place at the right time.”

Other area Class A teams will be looking to rebuild this season and will be doing so with underclassmen. Custer, 9th place in the team standings last year, lost the top three players from that squad.

Coach Paul Kelley’s team will feature a roster of sophomores and freshman led by Austin Eggers. Clark Gusso’s Belle Fourche team will be equally inexperienced.

Lead-Deadwood lists only three players on the season opening roster though the Goldiggers will feature sophomore Kayd Varland, a 13th place finisher in last year’s state tournament. Varland opened the season on Monday shooting a nifty 73 at Boulder Canyon Country Club in Sturgis.

Belle Fourche coach Dave Merrill will unveil his 2017 squad on Tuesday hosting the Hot Springs Invitational.

Area fans will have a chance to see many of the local teams in action at the West River Open Thursday (9 a.m.) at Meadowbrook Golf Course.

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