A look at Gazette area prep golfers and teams to watch this spring.
Girls' golfers to watch
Kristen Harding, Linn-Mar, sr., Finished 22nd at Class 5A state meet, first-team all-Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division, ranked among divisional leaders with 47.79 combined adjusted average.
Sarah Nacos, Washington (Iowa), sr., Three-time state medalist, IHSGCA first-team all-state selection, led Class 4A with averages of 36.8 per nine and 77.57 over 18 holes.
Tori Niemeyer, Linn-Mar, jr., Placed 25th at Class 5A state meet, second-team all-MVC Mississippi, averaged 48 per nine holes and owned a 49.49 combined adjusted average.
Courtney Olson, Clayton Ridge, jr., Finished fifth at Class 2A state tournament, regional medalist, Upper Iowa Conference runner-up, averaged 44.11 per nine holes.
Lauren Ries, Monticello, sr., Placed eighth at Class 3A state meet last year, three-time state qualifier, second-team IHSGCA all-state selection, averaged 44.0 for nine holes.
Jaden Schweinefus, South Winneshiek, sr., Placed third at Class 2A state tournament, second-team IHSGCA all-state pick, ranked third in 18-hole average (81) and combined adjusted average (43.41)
Carleigh Smith, Iowa Valley, Sr., Tied for 15th at the Class 1A state tournament, posted best South Iowa Cedar League averages for nine holes (46.75), 18 holes (91.8) and combined adjusted (48.06).
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Megan Strabala, Washington (Iowa), sr., Tied for 14th at Class 4A state tournament, second-team IHSGCA all-state team selection, averaged 49.20 per nine with combined adjusted average of 47.6.
Girls' teams to watch
Iowa Valley: The Tigers return everyone from last year’s roster. They placed sixth at the Class 1A state meet, which was a second straight appearance. Iowa Valley led the SICL in all categories, including a 394.20 18-hole team scoring average. Carleigh Smith leads the way, placing in the top 16 at state for the second consecutive year. Kyla Gehring, Brooke Davis and Taylor Smith are among the top scorers back for the experienced and deep Tigers.
Linn-Mar: The Lions came on strong for first-year head coach Chris James last season. Linn-Mar qualified for the Class 5A state tournament, placing seventh, and was the MVC Mississippi Division runner-up to 4A state runner-up Dubuque Wahlert. The Lions return five golfers with all-conference recognition, including first-teamer Kristen Harding and second-teamers Tori Niemeyer, Megan Murphy and Isabel Schminke. Claire Callahan earned honorable mention honors. The Lions are loaded and another year with James will only help a team with a 199.01 combined adjusted average.
Washington (Iowa): The Demons have one of the best golfers in the state, regardless of class. They also have a supporting class that is strong enough to contend on their own. Three-time state champion Sarah Nacos leads the way, but seniors Megan Strabala and Allison Vogel and junior Carly Burlingame provide three more solid scorers. Washington returns its top state performers and adds some strong freshmen to the mix. The Demons are in line for their fourth straight team trophy, adding to a third-place finish last year and state titles in 2015 and 2016.
West Liberty: West Liberty returns five starters from a team that finished third in the River Valley Conference. Juniors Macy Akers and Aly Jones are the top two shooters back from last season. Akers averaged 49.8 per nine holes and 98 per 18. Jones wasn’t far back at 50.4 and 98. Bella Runge, Morgan Peterson and Tatum Dickey add to the experience from last season. West Liberty will need its top two to be more consistent and better support from the other top golfers.
Boys' golfers to watch
Race Cuckler, Cascade, sr., Tied for 20th at Class 2A state meet last year and placed ninth in 2016, IHSGCA first-team all-state selection, River Valley Conference medalist, sixth in 2A with 38.82 combined adjusted average.
Jacob Hesner, East Buchanan, sr., Placed eighth at the Class 1A state tournament, IHSGCA first-team all-state pick, averaged 38.22 per nine and 76.43 over 18 holes.
Gavin Soppe, West Delaware, jr., Member of 2016 state team, sectional medalist, runner-up at Wamac East Divisional meet and placed 10th at Wamac Super Meet, averaged 43 per nine and 81.22 per 18 holes.
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Ethan Streicher, Edgewood-Colesburg, Jr., Finished 11th at the Class 1A state meet, earned second-team all-tournament honors from IHSGCA, led Upper Iowa Conference with 38.71 nine-hole average and second with 77.67 over 18 holes.
Spencer Touro, Benton Community, sr., Tied for 31st at Class 3A state tournament, first-team all-Wamac, returns with best 18-hole average (78.17) and tied for best returning combined adjusted average (41.15) in Wamac West.
Boys' teams to watch
Benton Community: The Bobcats earned their first state berth in 31 years, placing seventh in Class 3A. Benton has a chance to build on that success, returning four of its top six golfers from a year ago. The Bobcats will maintain their depth, boasting nine of the top 12 from last season. They have to improve across the board after losing two leaders to graduation.
East Buchanan: The Buccaneers graduated one of the state’s top golfers in state champ Chris Cooksley. East Buchanan returns three starters from last year’s state title team. Jacob Hesner placed eighth and leads the way with a 76.43 18-hole average. Hunter Snyder averaged about 89 per round, while Nathan Schmitt came in around 94. Spencer Cook gives them a fourth golfer back from last year, but the Buccaneers will look to develop depth with some newcomers.
West Delaware: Last year didn’t finish the way they had hoped after a state runner-up performance in 2016. Opposing coaches still list the Hawks among the Wamac’s top teams. The Hawks return all-conference performers in Gavin Soppe and sophomore Brandon Larsen. West Delaware returns four more letterwinners and has six to eight golfers capable to fill the final four spots.
Williamsburg: At first glance, this season could be a rebuilding year for the Raiders. They lost their top three golfers to graduation after last season. Williamsburg has found a way to reload annually, qualifying for the state tournament eight consecutive years. Senior Gage Blythe, junior Dylan Burns and sophomore Ryan Cavett return as starters and four of the top eight are back. Williamsburg will drop to 2A this season, which could be a factor.