Wildcat golfers old and new look to uphold tradition this spring
It may not be 11 straight, but with Holton High School’s golf team entering the season as three-time defending league champs there’s room to draw comparisons to a very successful Kansas basketball program.
Like the Jayhawks, the HHS wildcats seem to reload rather than rebuild, though Holton has a few more empty chambers to fill at the start of this spring. Luckily, coach Don Swisher isn’t at a loss for ammo.
“It’s wide open. Everybody has the opportunity, it’s just going to come down to how quickly some of them can perform and perform well to compete for a varsity position,” Swisher said. “Right now, we’re inexperienced and hopefully those kids can move forward and make improvements over where they were last year.”
While the Wildcats will have to deal with the loss of four-year letter winners Ethan Holaday and Kenton Tegethoff, individual league champion (and 2015 state medalist) and runner-up in 2014, the team does have a trio of varsity golfers returning this year.
Seniors Braden Sides, Garett Beecher and Parker Sides all bring back some varsity experience with Braden Sides being the most consistent contributor and doing so for the varsity team for the past two seasons, which is something Swisher said could be key for the team.
“Braden’s definitely a leader. I met with Braden before the season started and I said he could be like an assistant coach for us out there on the course when we’re playing, having practice, playing qualifying rounds or whatever,” Swisher said. “I know that he can do this and be a leader out there and keep everybody focused, encourage them, tell them what they can do to help themselves and really help us out in practices.”
Consistency may be the biggest boost from Braden Sides’ presence, as he has asserted himself as one of the Wildcats’ top four scorers in each of the past two seasons. Last year, he finished fourth behind Holaday and Tegethoff at the Big Seven League tournament and was right on their heels in nearly all of the four other tournaments Holton won last season.
That is something Swisher said the team might lack early as the Wildcats look for five new golfers to fill a void and it may be a while before the team can rely on the routinely low scoring that has paced it in years past.
With several young and inexperienced golfers, Swisher said one of the focuses to building consistency early on this season is getting some tempo to their swings and not trying to overpower the ball. If the Wildcats can manage that and stay out of trouble, then Swisher said the rest of the work will be up to the golfers’ short game.
Holton’s golfers aren’t there yet, with Swisher noting a lot of bogeys and big numbers still prevalent on his players’ scorecards after some early rounds, but he said he sees a concentrated effort in practice from the entire group in an attempt to advance their game.
It’s a big group, too, as the Wildcats have 24 golfers out for the team this spring and those numbers could be an advantage, at least according to Swisher. The larger the group pushing for those five open varsity spots, the more competitive the team will be and the coach said that should only help foster some consistent golf and bring the team along this season.
To help rebuild for future seasons as well, the Wildcats could have some freshmen make a splash on this year’s squad as Swisher noted there are three coming in who are pretty serious about the sport and could be in that mix competing for a varsity spot.
“Three of them really love the game, they love to play and I really think they’re three kids who are going to play 12 months out of the year whenever they have the opportunity,” Swisher said. “I think they’re ones who are going to progress rapidly through the season. They have the skills.”
Swisher said the golfers are aware of the coach’s philosophy, too, that grade level matters little in filling out the varsity roster. Performance speaks volumes and some of those freshmen, along with some sophomores and juniors, are pushing a large senior class and fighting for an opportunity.
After coming up short in a regional that featured the top two teams in Class 4A last year, Swisher knows this team could have its work cut out for it this season. The Wildcats are aiming to keep up their tradition, though, and while it may take some time for the team to find its groove, Swisher also believes this is a team with a high ceiling.
“Our goal is to be competitive at every meet and hopefully we’re competitive enough at the end of the season that we can compete for a fourth straight Big Seven League championship,” Swisher said.
“I think we can be a pretty solid team at the end of the year. I have confidence in them,” Swisher added. “I’m sure that they’re going to anxiously await the first tournament we go to and I also am interested to see how we’re performing at that time and then I want them to understand we need to build on it, but I think just looking at the season overall I think we’re a team that’s going to get better as the season goes on.”
The Wildcats will kick off varsity competition at the Hiawatha Invitational on Friday, April 10.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Braden Sides, sr., third at league (2014)
Garett Beecher, sr.
Parker Sides, sr.