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Rapid City Stevens found itself on the cusp of a state Class AA boys golf championship in each of the last two seasons, only to see its title hopes slip away. The Raiders hope to take the next step up the podium this fall as the boys golf season gets into full swing.

With a team dotted with veteran leadership from state tournament play in seniors Ben Daane and Adam Salter and junior Jonah Swartz, Stevens coach Nick Rotella might have the makings of a state champion.

“We have a very capable team, if we have a few things bounce our way,” said Rotella, whose team kicked off the season this week at the Sioux Falls Invitational. “I hear them talk about a title. I see the determination in their eyes. It’s a good thing to see. It’s easy to coach a team when they’re determined to do well.”

In 2017, at Pierre’s Hillsview Golf Course, Stevens entered the state AA tournament as an underdog to contend for a title. The Raiders trailed Sioux Falls O’Gorman by two shots after the opening day of play, only to come up one shot short of a state title.

“We had solid talent throughout, and we were right there after the first day,” said Salter, who is in his fifth year of varsity golf at Stevens. “When we came up one shot short, we were heartbroken.”

Last year, at a cold, windy Brookings Country Club, the Raiders held a five-shot lead after the first round. A nine-shot swing in second-day scoring left Stevens four strokes behind Sioux Falls Lincoln in the championship standings.

“No one played as good as we could’ve, myself included,” said Salter. “Even through the first nine, we had a decent lead, but we had some big numbers on the closing nine. We shot 308 the second day. That wasn’t acceptable to us.”

That’s left Salter and his Raider teammates hungry for a state title, despite losing Ryan Nolan, John Young and Payton Phares to graduation.

Daane, Salter and Swartz give Stevens as good a first three as any Class AA team in the state. Individually, Salter tied for second place with Sioux Falls Roosevelt senior Jack Lundin, Daane tied with Spearfish’s Kevin Kolb for fourth place, and Swartz, then a sophomore, tied for 15th place with three other golfers.

Eighth-grader Jackson Swartz, Jonah’s brother, is Stevens’ No. 4 golfer at this point in the season. Four juniors — Sam Lesselyoung, Alex Humke, Brandon Drumm and Nick Sliper — are among the golfers vying for the fifth and sixth spots on the varsity team.

“Our top four are pretty solid. The next group of kids are competing for the two spots,” Rotella said. “I look forward to seeing how our kids play at Meadowbrook. We’re going to have two teams play.

“It’ll be interesting to see how some of these kids have grown and how they’ll compete in a tournament.”

Rotella is among the coaches who see Sioux Falls Lincoln and Sioux Falls Roosevelt as the early favorites to win the State AA championship. With the AA tournament being played at Hillcrest Golf & Country Club in Yankton, Rotella sees the Bucks as a darkhorse to take state.

“Yankton is such a different course. It’s a much more difficult course. It’s got raised greens you don’t see most of the time,” Rotella said. “I’ve seen it take good golfers and chew them up and spit them out.”

Fresh off a win in the South Dakota Golf Association’s stroke play championship, Roosevelt senior Lundin is among the favorites for honors medalist. Stevens seniors Salter and Daane both finished in the top five at state last year. Lincoln teammates Jack Hilgenberg, a freshman, and junior Nash Stenberg also cracked the top 10 at the 2018 state tournament.

The Class AA state tournament will be held on Oct. 7-8 at Hillcrest. The Class A state tournament will be held Oct. 7-8 at The Bluffs Golf Course in Vermillion.

Boys Golf Preview

Rapid City Central

Head coach: Jeremy Noyes (13th year)

Returning varsity team members: Alex Duran, jr.; Seth Stock, jr.

Coach’s preseason comments: “We have no seniors on our roster. We will look to Seth and Alex to lead us this season. Both were state tournament participants last season. Alex had our nest season average. Benjamin Gibson is a seventh-grader with a very promising future for Cobbler golf. I look for Stevens, Lincoln and Roosevelt to be the top teams in AA this season,” Noyes said.

Rapid City Stevens

Head coach: Nick Rotella (3rd year)

Last year’s results: Second at State “AA” tournament

Returning varsity members: Adam Salter, sr., tied for second at State AA in 2018, 17th at State AA in 2017; Ben Daane, tied for fourth at State AA in 2018, tied for 18th at State AA in 2017; Jonah Swartz, jr., tied for 22nd at State AA in 2018, tied for third at State AA in 2017.

Coach’s preseason comments: “We have three solid golfers from our team last year returning. In addition to those three, we have several golfers that played well at tournaments and are excited to be a part of our varsity lineup this year. We should have a mix of veteran and young talent on the course. I look forward to our chances of giving the Sioux Falls schools a run for their money at the state tournament in Yankton this year. Roosevelt looks to be a front runner this year in my mind,” Rotella said.

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Spearfish

Coach name: Eric Ligtenberg (12th year)

Last year’s results: Fourth at State AA tournament, Black Hills Conference champions.

Returning varsity members: Sam Grout, jr., medalist at Black Hills Conference and Spearfish Invitational meets, placed 26th at State AA tournament, scoring average of 79 in 2018; Dane Burghduff, medalist at Lead-Deadwood/Belle Fourche/Spearfish triangular meet in 2018, finished 44th at State AA tournament, scoring average of 86 in 2018; Jack Hight, fr., scoring average of 91 in 2018; Josh Sundsed, fr., scoring average of 93 in 2018; Slade Ladson, soph., scoring average of 103 in 2018; Preston Hazeldine, fr., scoring average of 109 in 2018.

Coach’s preseason comments: “We will have a different look this year after graduating five very successful seniors. We will still be very competitive within the Black Hills Conference schools, led by Sam Grout, our junior standout. Rapid City Stevens will be one of the toughest team across the state. They return three of the very top tier players in the state. Sioux Falls Roosevelt and Lincoln will also be two teams on the eastern side of the state that should be very good and at the top this year. Both of those teams have key players returning for another year,” Ligtenberg said.

Belle Fourche

Head coach: Bill Burr (2nd year)

Returning varsity members: Lance Sutter, jr; Alex Voyles, jr.; Aden Beisel, jr.; Albert Keys, soph.; Daryn French, 8th

Coach’s preseason comments: “We are a young team and will rely on last season’s experience of Lance and Alex. Lance had a top-15 placement at conference, eighth place at region and a top-25 at state. Alex finished in the top 20 at region and made it to the state tournament,” Burr said.

Cheyenne-Eagle Butte

Head coach: Galen Aberhard (3rd year)

Returning varsity members: Iyan Rondeau, soph.; Jackson Moran, soph.

Coach’s preseason comments: “We do not have a home course at Eagle Butte. The golfers that we do get only really play during the school year. For practice we have to improvise and use fake greens, nets and foam balls. This will be a season of learning the rules, etiquette and gaining a little experience. With all that said, the boys are excited to take on the challenge and learn this great game,” Eberhard said.

Custer

Head coach: Paul Kelley (13th year)

2018 results: Region 4A champions, 10th place at State A tournament

Returning varsity members: Austin Egger, sr., finished in top 25 at state in 2018; Dylan Polzine, sr.; Justus Kramer, sr.; Dustyn Fish, jr.; Gunner Prior, jr.; Ryder Bailey, 8th;

Coach’s preseason comments: We return our top four golfers from last year’s team. Austin should be one of the top golfers in our region and is hoping to have a great senior year. We hope to compete for our conference and region championships,” Kelley said.

Douglas

Head coach: Amy Rowe (15th year)

Returning varsity members: Derrick Brown, sr.; Austin Taylor, sr.; Sawyer Brose, soph.; Andrew Divis, fr.

Coach’s preseason comments: “It’s good to have senior Derrick Brown back, as he was gone last year playing hockey in New Hampshire. We were a young team last year, so hopefully a year of practice and experience will help us this year. I have a team full of promising prospects. Stevens is always a state favorite,” Rowe said.

Todd County

Head coach: R. Ben Bordeaux (25th year)

Returning varsity members: Bryce Hammer, sr., 5-year letterman, 4-time state qualifier; Caleb Clairmont, sr., 4-tear letterman, 2-time state qualifier; Bryce’son Neal, sr.; 3-year letterman; Doug Yellow Boy, sr.; 3-year letterman; Royal Wike, sr., 1-year letterman; Halsey Pearman, fr.

Coach’s preseason comments: “I have a senior-heavy team. I expect some good things out of this team this year. Bryce Hammer should qualify for this fifth state tournament and Caleb Clairmont should qualify for this third state tournament. If Bryce’son, Doug and Royal play the way I know they can, they also have a decent shot at qualifying, too,” Bordeaux said.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.