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Golf team has strong core, plenty of youth

Senior Riley Johnson watches a shot during practice Thursday at the Village Green golf course in Moorhead. Dave Wallis1 / 2
West Fargo senior Nathan Kapaun watches a putt during practice Thursday at the Village Green golf course in Moorhead. Dave Wallis2 / 2

The West Fargo boys golf season is now underway, and co-head coach Chuck Gad — in his 38th year coaching the Packers — sees plenty of his 17 athletes jockeying for a qualifying spot on the varsity roster.

“We have three players back, and they really are our top three players,” Gad said. “After that, it’s up for grabs. We have a lot of good freshmen and sophomores this year.”

The Packers are coming off a season in which they finished seventh in the state, which — after losing four key seniors — they deemed a success.

“Our goal was to make it to state, and we did,” Gad said. “We also wanted to be a top-10 team in the state, and we were seventh. We were only 6 or 7 shots from second, so we were really happy with the end of the year. It was a very successful year for us. I can’t complain.”

The team will look for guidance from three returners: seniors Riley Johnson and Nathan Kapaun and freshman Cole Johnson.

Cole Johnson, despite his age, posted the second-best 18-hole average score on the team. With little pressure on him in the past few seasons, he has managed to post solid numbers.

Kapaun, on the other hand, burst onto the scene last season after barely making the varsity lineup.

“Nathan was a borderline player, but we kept him around,” Gad said. “All of the sudden, he went from shooting 87s to 78s. He just suddenly said, ‘You know, I want to be good at this,’ and he was very good for us.”

Riley Johnson, on the other hand has been a key piece of the team for the past five seasons, and won the 2012 individual state championship. His coach describes the opportunity to coach him as “a blessing.”

“I would say he is the best player in the state,” Gad said. “Everyone he plays with enjoys him. I’ve had him since the seventh grade, and I’m going to cry when he leaves.”

While the Packers’ lineup will be anchored by those three, the rest of the varsity roster will be filled by athletes with little varsity experience.

By the end of the spring, however, those golfers should get plenty of experience by playing in non-conference varsity meets.

“We guarantee them, depending on the weather, four or five varsity meets, and then we’ll see where their standards are this year,” Gad said. “They will get a tremendous amount of experience.”

The coaching staff has been very impressed with the team’s work ethic, but they need to focus more on the mental aspect of the game — which Gad believes makes up 80 percent of golf — and less on mechanics.

“Most of kids have a very good swing, but the mental aspect needs to be constantly worked on, especially with younger kids,” Gad said. “You can always improve on that.”

While the Packers are gunning for one of the top three parts in the state this season, Gad ultimately hopes his team simply continues to improve and remains positive throughout the season.

“They don’t come in and tell me their bad holes,” Gad said. “That is the only time I’ll raise my voice. You know what you did wrong, and you can go work on it. Tell me the good stuff.”

The team will participate in a two-day invitational in Jamestown on Friday and Saturday and will then take part in an invitational at Rose Creek Golf Course in Fargo on Monday.