Experienced Tigers have high hopes

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff


MATTHEW BAGNALL, shown teeing off last season, is one of five returning starters for the Howards Grove boys golf team this year. Bagnall was a regional medalist and an All-BEC first-team player in 2016. – Review file photo MATTHEW BAGNALL, shown teeing off last season, is one of five returning starters for the Howards Grove boys golf team this year. Bagnall was a regional medalist and an All-BEC first-team player in 2016. – Review file photo HOWARDS GROVE – The Howards Grove Tigers will be shooting for a strong boys golf season as they return most of their players from last year’s Division 3 sectional qualifier and Big East Conference runner-up team.

The Tigers have three All-BEC golfers back from 2016, led by senior Matthew Bagnall who earned first-team honors. Bagnall was the medalist in HG’s regional – leading his team to a third-place finish. The Tigers went on to capture third place in sectional play, just missing second which would’ve given them a state berth.

Bagnall is one of five returning varsity starters which make up the group of letter winners back from last season. The other players back are senior Jake Fritz, juniors Mason Valenstein and Jacob Brunner and sophomore Jack Baldwin. Valenstein and Baldwin were All-BEC second-team golfers last season.

“We should be in the hunt to win the Big East and potentially make it to state,” said second-year Tiger head coach Joe Hansen.

The Tigers, who lost only one starter from last season in Layne Gustafson (on the All-BEC second team in 2016), finished second in the overall conference standings and tied for second in the league tournament.

Hansen pointed out the Tigers’ strengths:

“Experience – we are returning seven of our nine team members from last year. There is also greater confidence this year as last season was my first coaching the team. There is better knowledge of the program and what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Hansen.

“We are returning five of six varsity players who now have a year of experience in the program. All were significant contributors last year and were important to our season last year. We only have eight players in the entire program right now but they are all strong players.”

Among the varsity newcomers, Hansen said sophomore Ryan Splittgerber has impressed him at the start of the season.

“He had a nice season as a freshman at the junior varsity level. His game appears to be progressing well and could contribute at the varsity level this year,” said the coach.

Hansen stated his top goals for the season.

“Our conference, regional and sectional competition is very strong but we hope to potentially win the Big East and qualify for the state tournament. The conference title came down to one shot and we missed state by a few shots last year,” he said.

In the league tourney, HG tied for second place with Kohler and the teams were only three strokes behind champion Sheboygan Lutheran. Lutheran also won the overall BEC championship.

Lutheran placed second in HG’s sectional and went on to finish fourth at state.

“Trust in ourselves and our process. Play for each other when competition becomes difficult,” said Hansen referring to the keys for success this season.


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