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Park Rapids boys return top five golfers, seek spot in Section 8AA tournament

Ed Carlson, who had a 95.45 18-hole average in 11 meets last season, will be one of six returning golfers who will lead the Park Rapids boys golf team this spring.

Even though the Park Rapids boys golf team returns a young lineup, head coach Jim Weinzierl is optimistic the Panthers can contend for a spot in the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and Section 8AA tournament.

A year ago, the Panthers shot a season-best 344 at Bears Den and ended the season by shooting a 366 for sixth place at the Mid-State Conference tournament and a 358 for seventh place at the North Section 8AA tournament.

With the return of his top five golfers, Weinzierl expects the Panthers to improve on those scores this spring.

Leading the Panthers this season will be junior Ed Carlson; sophomores Ian Johnson and Nate Johnson; and freshmen Bailey Mueller, Dustin Bethel and Jamie Stewart.

Johnson played in 11 tournaments last season and finished with a 93.90 18-hole average. Johnson, whose best round was an 83 at Bears Den, ended the season by carding a 96 at the Mid-State meet, a 95 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship, and an 86 at the North 8AA meet.

Mueller played in 10 tournaments and finished with a 94.10 average, highlighted by an 88 at the Mid-State meet, a 91 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and an 85 at the North 8AA meet.

Ed Carlson played in 11 tournaments and had a 95.45 average last season. Carlson carded a season-best 81 at Bears Den and ended the season with rounds of 95 at the Mid-State meet, 103 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and 95 at the North 8AA tournament.

Nate Carlson had a 98.70 average in nine tournaments, highlighted by a 93 at the Mid-State tournament and a 94 at the North 8AA meet.

Bethel played in four tournaments last season and had a 91.50 average, including a 91 at the Mid-State meet and a 93 at the North 8AA tournament.

Stewart posted a 104.50 average in two tournaments last season.

Giving the Panthers depth on the varsity this season are sophomores Kyle Lewis and Dillon Preston and freshmen Ryan DeLaHunt, Jake Firehammer, CJ Hess, Jeff Jacobson and Andrew Stinar. That group will look to fill in for last year's senior crew of Gairett Johnson (100.50 average in six tournaments), Sterling Lindahl (102.50 average in five meets), Tony Schmid (104.16 average in six meets) and Ben Breitweser (who shot a 113 in his only varsity meet).

"We're very young, but we're going to be much more competitive this year," said Weinzierl, who will be assisted by Tadd Usher and Tom Coborn. "I expect us to be down in the 340 range. To do that, we need four scores of 85 or less. I think these kids are very capable of doing that."

Last year, the Panthers finished sixth in the final Mid-Minnesota Conference standings behind Staples-Motley, Pequot Lakes, Crosby-Ironton, Wadena-Deer Creek and Pine River-Backus to miss advancing to the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship. Weinzierl is hoping the Panthers can qualify for that meet this season.

Weinzierl is also confident the Panthers can move up in the Mid-State Conference standings and contend for a top-three showing at the North 8AA meet to advance to the section tournament for the first time since 2006. The Panthers finished behind Roseau (308), Crookston (310), East Grand Forks (316), Warroad (318), Thief River Falls (325) and Bagley/Fosston (353) and didn't advance a golfer at last year's Section 8AA North meet.

"I expect us to finish in the top half and qualify for the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship. Another goal is to move on as a team at the subsection tournament. If the team doesn't qualify, I want to qualify as many individual players as possible," said Weinzierl. "To do that, the kids will have to shoot in the high 70s and low 80s. I think they can do it."