By winning the last three Class A state golf championships, the Whitefish boys' team has a target on its back.
Taking aim at the Bulldogs this season are the Hamilton Broncs, who may just have the firepower to dethrone the kings of Class A golf.
"We've got a solid group of three kids that battle for the No. 1 spot," Hamilton coach Owen Burch said. "But we've got three or four more that are capable of going low, and that makes us pretty deep."
Hamilton's Big Three includes Paul Petersen, Jake Wilson and Josh Grenier, all of whom are seniors.
Wilson won the season-opening tournament in Butte last week, while Petersen tied for medalist honors at the Ronan Invitational three days later. The Broncs won the team titles at both tournaments, including a seven-shot win over Whitefish at Ronan.
"All of these kids are good kids with unbelievable talent," Burch said. "They've put in a ton of time practicing and it's nice to see it pay off."
Rounding out the Broncs squad are seniors Jesse Porch, Ben Hollibaugh and Brian Richichi.
The Broncs are the defending Southwestern A champions and are favored to repeat.
Along with Wilson, Petersen and Grenier, Frenchtown's Casey Moen, Anaconda's Cory Donahue and Stevensville's Clay Pape are all expected to compete for the individual title.
The Anaconda girls' team is the defending two-time Southwestern A champ, and is primed to make it three in a row. The Copperheads are led by senior Erin Heaney and sophomore Chelsie Moquist.
Even though the Hamilton boys are hot right now, Terry Nelson's Whitefish squad isn't conceding anything just yet.
"We're rebuilding a little bit," Nelson said. "But we're getting better and better. I like what I've seen so far, and the kids are committed to improving."
Defending Class A individual champion Sam Krause is back for his senior campaign, and Nelson said he's playing well heading into the prep season.
Krause played all over the United States this summer, including the USGA Junior Amateur in Augusta, Mo.
Senior Anrdre Groschupf, junior Daniel Markus and sophomores Ryan Zalucky and Joe Mallums are going to make the Bulldogs tough to beat.
"There isn't too much pressure on the kids to win state again," Nelson said. "They're aware of it, and they definitely want to make it No. 4 this year. If everybody clicks, we can beat anybody out there."
Whitefish likely will claim the Northwestern A again, but the individual race will be a battle.
Libby's Jimmy Mee was co-medalist at the Ronan tournament and carries a plus-0.4 handicap. Mee finished second at state last season, four shots behind Krause. Polson's Tyler Engebretson will also be in the hunt.
On the girls' side, Whitefish senior Chelsea Ray is the girl to beat, Nelson said.
Ray won at Ronan and was second in the Class AA tournament in Great Falls last week.
The Bulldogs girls' team is the defending state champion, and Nelson said he thinks the team is deep enough to make another run at it this season.
Junior Quinn Micklewright finished seventh at state a year ago, and sophomore Breanna Cameron and freshman Kylie McConnell are capable of playing well, Nelson said.
"The girls won it all last year," Nelson said, "and our expectations are that they can do it again."
The Class A state meet is scheduled for Oct. 3-4 at Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda.
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