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Boys golf team has plenty of reasons for optimisim as entire varsity team returns next season

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Brodie Kuizenga plays a tee shot at Juniper Golf Course this spring. Kuizenga shot his best round of the year at the district tournament and is expected to be one of the team's leaders next year. The Crook County Cowboy golf team came up short in their bid to earn a berth at the state championships.

However, the Cowboys still had plenty to be proud of as the team shot their best scores of the year at the district tournament.

"I think that we are excited moving forward," said head coach Zach Lampert. "That group of young kids came in and kept getting better throughout the season."

Lampert is not only excited to see what his team can do next year, he is also looking forward to the challenges of moving up to Class 5A.

"I really like that we are going to have a league that we identify with and that we are truly a part of," he said. "With that special district stuff, it felt like we were just the extra team thrown into these other leagues — The Greater Oregon League and then the Tri-Valley. So, I like that we have an identity now. We are a solid part of the Intermountain Conference."

However, that doesn't mean that the transition won't still be difficult.

Lampert noted that Class 5A tends to be tougher competition because teams have more depth.

"They are just deeper, so we have our work cut out for us in that respect," he said. "But I think that if we shoot the scores that we are capable of in the future, if these guys keep getting better, then we are going to be right in the mix to be competitive, so it doesn't scare me."

Still, he acknowledged that Ridgeview will have a solid team next season, with Isaac Buerger, one of the top golfers in the state, returning for his senior year.

In addition, Lampert noted that both The Dalles and Pendleton are likely to have highly competitive teams.

However, Lampert is quick to add that the future looks bright for the Crook County High School program.

Not only does the entire varsity team return, but a solid core of JV players are also returning.

Lampert said that he is pleased that several of his players are still playing regularly in the summer.

Freshmen Hogan Smith and Cayden Lowenbach are both playing in Central Oregon Junior Golf Association tournaments during the summer.

In addition, Brodie Kuizenga and Trenton Brinkley have been playing at least two rounds a week.

Lampert believes that with the extra time on the links, all four players should get better.

The other member of this year's varsity team, Tannon Joyner, is also expected to improve.

Lampert added that several members of this year's JV team are also playing regularly.

"We should be pretty deep," he said. "We are still going to be young next year, but it gives us a chance to be deeper than we have been, and if they can push each other and challenge for varsity spots, it creates an added layer of competition throughout the whole season."

Like this season, Lampert believes that in the future, the team's strength will be in the pack.

Although he expects Kuizenga and Smith to emerge as team leaders, due to their extra tournament experience, he also expects the team to be packed close together.

That depth should make the team competitive.

Not only that, Lampert, who is the head golf professional at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, said that the course has recently hired an assistant pro, Jared Lambert.

One of Lambert's key duties at the golf course is developing young golfers, something that is intended to make sure that the golf course has plenty of players in the future, but that should pay big dividends for the high school golf program in the future.

However, that doesn't mean that there won't be unknowns as the team moves up into Class 5A.

The way teams qualify for state has been changed dramatically.

Next season, each of the four Class 5A districts will have a tournament with the top team advancing to the state tournament.

Teams finishing second, third and fourth at district will then advance to a regional qualifier with the top two teams from each region also advancing to state.

Two individuals from each league will also advance to state, as well as four individuals from the regional tournament.

That may put a lot of pressure on players at the end of the year, but it also gives them an additional opportunity to qualify for state.

With the entire team back, a new league, and a new qualifying system, it could make for an interesting year for the Cowboys.

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