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Golf teams are hoping they can take to the course

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HARTINGTON — COVID-19 has hit the sporting world hard.

Everybody is just going to have to play it by ear, said HNS golf coach Ken Kneifl.

“Of utmost importance is the health and safety of the kids and of everyone. Of course, we want to play and compete but really, we need to do what is necessary to get this virus under control,” he said.

Then of course, a season in limbo is not something easy to wrap your mind around.

“What is difficult as far as our golf season is the unknown: Will we play this spring or won’t we,” Kneifl said. “If we do play, when? I’ve got three seniors this spring, one of whom is Dylan Dendinger. He will be a four-year starter and has given a lot to this program. You really hope he can finish his career competing. 

“Brady Heitman played for the first time last year. I am really hoping he can build on last season. Sam Harms is playing for the first time.”

Now it’s about waiting for a chance to get back on the links to get a look at the future. 

“We also have some exciting young players who we were really looking forward to watching,” Kneifl said. “Whatever happens though, we’ll adjust and roll with it. I hope for all the kids no matter what they are involved in that they have an opportunity to complete their school year. 

“At this point things are simply out of our control. We will deal with this though and do what we need to do. I’ve got resilient kids, kids who understand the big picture.”

IF the season restarts …

The previous spring, Kneifl went through a rebuilding season in his 23rd year in charge.

“We did some good things, but really battled inconsistency all season,” he said.

This spring, he returns Dendinger and Heitman, along with sophomore Reece Morton, to hopefully start an upward trend.

“Dylan started his first meet as a freshman and has started every meet since,” Kneifl said. “He is a true leader. I will be counting on him heavily to establish our practice habits and expectations. Reece was a starter as a freshman and improved dramatically as the season went on. In addition, he put in a lot of time last summer on his game. I’m excited to see him build as his sophomore season wears on.

“Brady really just began playing golf last season. He does some really good things. Because he is still new to the game, he battles inconsistency. We will count on Brady to help stabilize our team.”

Combining with the veterans will be senior Harms, sophomore Carson Jones and freshmen Turner Dendinger and Mason Buschkamp.

“Sam is new to the game, however, he is a really good athlete who is already very accomplished,” Kneifl said. “Without a doubt he carries a sense of success in the various things he does. It will be interesting to see how fast he picks up the game. Carson is limited in golf exposure. He did take part in junior golf years ago. I’ve been encouraged watching him hit the ball.

“Though Turner is only a freshman, he brings a fair amount of golf experience to the table. He hits the ball really well. Now what he needs most is just tournament experience,” said Kneifl. “Mason has never played, but he too is very coachable. He’s a strong young man that once he gets the swing figured out, he is going to improve quickly.” 

The Wildcats are a coachable team that has good chemistry and a work ethic that carries over into practices, Kneifl said.

“We are going to battle inexperience with several of our players. It takes a lot of time and effort to become consistent at this game. We absolutely need to get better at the short game, and we need to limit our penalty strokes.”

Despite the mixed bag of experience and raw talent, it could be a fun season.

“This is a team that likes each other and that likes the game,” Kneifl said. “We’ve been able to get outdoors much earlier than in the past. We’ve practiced on days where the weather has been less than ideal, and I don’t hear any complaining.”

Kneifl is prepared for another run of tough competition.

“Being a small school, we are prone to years where we don’t have a lot of players at times,” Kneifl said. “We had six players last year and have seven this year. Other years we will have groups of kids that have played a lot together growing up. We try to always give our kids a positive experience no matter what their level of play is.”