By BRETT MARSHALL
When the 2009 high school girls golf season tees off Thursday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course with the Sublette Invitational, area coaches are not quite sure what to expect. There will be 10 schools represented in the season opening event that tees off at 3 p.m.
That's because graduation, injuries and players not returning to compete this fall all have area coaches unsure about how their teams will develop.
"We only have six girls participating this season," veteran Lakin coach Travis McAtee said of the Lady Broncs who placed sixth at the 2008 Class 3-2-1A state tournament in Emporia after being the runner-up in the regionals. "But I'm still optimistic about our chances to be competitive as the season goes along."
That's because McAtee welcomes back senior Maggie Hilbig, one of the mainstays off his 2008 squad. All Hilbig did was place fifth at the regionals and 11th at the state meet.
"I also expect Kathleen Duncan (senior) to be a solid player after playing well late last season," McAtee said of his player who placed fifth at regionals a year ago. "I think further development in the short game skills will be the key to our success this season."
McAtee will also have senior Kilee Hutchison and juniors Jessica Morgan and Paige Rodd on his opening tournament roster.
For another veteran area coach, the question marks are even more pronounced.
Syracuse coach Rick Mathias will be without his leading golfer and last year's Class 3-2-1A state runner-up medalist Kami Rash. The senior Lady Bulldog tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during basketball in January and missed all of her spring track season as a junior. She has been undergoing rehabilitation on the knee all summer and is expected to get a doctor's release on Sept. 4. Until then, it's just a little short game practice for Rash.
"We're certainly not the same team without her and without a couple of other girls who didn't come out this season," Mathias said on the eve of the debut tournament. "It's a far cry from the past because none of our players competed or practiced much in the offseason."
Mathias did say that because of Rash's injury, she has focused her summer practice on the all-important short game.
"She's gotten so much better with her chipping and putting," Mathias said of his senior standout. "She wants to win state this year and is doing everything she can to get ready. Every day she tries to work on different shots that I think is going to help her a lot."
Mathias will have only two other returners in his lineup Thursday — senior Kelly Darnell and sophomore Madison Brown. "Until Kami returns, they'll be the mainstays. But we're going to struggle."
For Holcomb and coach Scott Stegman, he will be looking for three juniors to form the foundation of his 2009 team. That group includes his daughter, Amy, Shannae Carman and Sam Larrick.
"We will have to find a way to replace last year's seniors," Stegman said. "Everyone will have to step up and take their game to the next level."
Stegman will also be looking for immediate contributions from senior Lori Harshbarger who did not play last year and sophomores Brianna Barlow and Melissa Sizemore.
For the Hugoton Lady Eagles, coach Jason Hajek will be counting on solid play from seniors Camrie Sheets and Carrie Stoddard as well as with newcomer freshman Tessa Rindels.
"I look for Camrie to be real competitive this year," Hajek said of Sheets. "She has been practicing really hard."
Teams entered in the tournament are Lakin, Syracuse, Holcomb, host Sublette, Garden City's junior varsity, Larned, Liberal, Ulysses, Hugoton and Oakley.