Despite losing two of his top golfers to graduation from last year's team that finished second at state for the third time since 2004, Benton High School boys golf coach Reggie Norman is hoping the 2019 edition will return to the state tournament for the third time in the last five years.
"We've had some really good teams," Norman said. "The hard part is getting to state, but I would say the last four years all of those teams have had about equal opportunity to make something happen at state. Last year, we came up one stroke shy. We just happened to get a little bit closer than the 2015 and 2017 teams that didn't get out of sectionals or the 2016 team that finished sixth. This 2019 team wants to have a shot at it (state) again."
The Rangers open their season this week at the IHSA Prep Tour High School Showcase in LaSalle Thursday and will follow-up with a meet at the Anna-Jonesboro Invitational Saturday.
"At the Showcase, they invite the top teams in 1A, 2A and 3A and put them all together and play one great big tournament," Norman said. "It's an honor that people recognize us as one of the best 2A teams in the state, but it's also an honor for us to try to compete against the best 3A teams. What better way to start a season than playing the toughest competition you can get. At the Showcase last year, we finished middle of the pack, but we saw a lot and it helped us down the road."
Norman has to replace his two senior scorers in All-State and All-South Brendan Luster, who finished third at state, and All-South Robbie Moore.
"Luster is going to Rend Lake College and Moore will be playing for Missouri Baptist," Norman said. "Despite losing those seniors, we expect to score better than last year. We've got a lot of kids who can score. This team has a lot of tournament experience. They play a lot of tournaments in the summer and the spring on their own. It gets them ready for the season."
Norman does return senior All-South performer in Brad Hammond, who finished tied for 20th at the state meet, to anchor this year's team.
However, Norman also has at least nine other golfers to battle for the top six spots led by seniors Jared Shaw and Collin Miller, who played on the state team, as well as two other seniors -- Cole Brugger and Brett Merkel -- and junior Peyton Sieveking.
"We've got 10 guys that at some point this year will be playing varsity," Norman. "It's so nice to have 10 guys who can compete for spots. You don't get that everywhere. I appreciate the fact that these guys flat put in the work to get good. Hopefully, we can find the right mix to make a run."
Adding to the mix is freshman Cy Norman, the son of the coach, along with fellow freshman, Nick Melvin, and two sophomores, Andrew Bell and Keaton House.
"Cy had a solid summer, so he's going to come in and contend for the one spot," Norman said. "I believe anybody in our lineup can be a one."