Turnout is high this year for boys golf, and head coach Lowell Catron has a solid core returning with three starters and a pair of sectional qualifiers.

Turnout is high this year for boys golf, and head coach Lowell Catron has a solid core returning with three starters and a pair of sectional qualifiers.

AJ Musche and Robbie Sager came within two strokes of qualifying for state last year. The pair tied for 25th in the Class 4 Sectional 3 tournament with scores of 10-over par. Add in Mason Bryant, and Catron has a strong trio to rely on.

“We’ve had years in the past where we don’t have any body returning so having sixty percent of your top five back is great,” he said. “Both AJ and Robbie were very close to making it to state last year and Mason, he’s a good leader on the team. He’ll have a good year. We’ve got some leadership on the team, some experience.”

Carthage went 7-3 last year in matches and finished fourth in the district team standings.

With a total of 16 players on the roster, that leaves Catron with more than a dozen guys to fill the final two varsity spots. One of them could be senior Payton Williams.

“I’m hoping he’ll have a good year this year,” Catron said. “He’s been playing the last few years and getting more and more experience. I’m looking for him to step up. I’m kind of anxious to see how the top five is going to round out and who’s going to be on there.”

The roster includes six freshmen and six sophomores. Musche and Williams are the lone seniors. Most years the team consists of only 10 or 11 players.

“It’s going to be interesting to see that many guys vying for those varsity spots,” Catron said. “I think it’ll make them better, plus a lot of them are really new and they’ll take this year to get accustomed to what competitive golf is like and then they’ll have all summer to get better. I look for these young guys to really improve in a year.”

The first two weeks of practice were spent mainly on everybody’s short game. Not until this week is Catron planning to start playing off the tees and playing for score to determine the starting roster.

“Practices are going great, the weather’s been decent,” Catron said. “It’s just early in the year to tell. They’re all doing a great job. It’s really cool having so many freshmen and sophomore guys. They all seem to really like the game and practicing hard. I’m real pleased with that.”

The Tigers will be missing one key golfer this year in Grant Trent. The junior was seriously injured in a car accident in August and spent several days in critical condition. He was a sectional qualifier last spring.

“There’s definitely a void not having him out there, not just playing-wise,” Catron said. “He was kind of a glue for the whole team. He’s one of those guys, he got along with everybody and everybody liked Grant. You need guys like that. When you lose a person like that off the team it leaves a hole in the team. More than missing him as a player, as a coach I miss him just being out here and seeing him get along with everybody. Just a great attitude.”

Catron said he wants Trent to be around as much as he can this spring.

“I know it’s probably hard on him seeing what he’s not being able to do right now,” he said. “It might take a little while but i”m hoping he’ll be out here to support us.”

Carthage opens the season March 26 at Twin Hills with Webb City and Joplin. The Tigers host Webb City, Joplin and Carl Junction on March 27. Carthage also plays at home on April 10 and 16.