By MATTHEW SHERMAN
Just looking at who graduated from last year's Lakeridge boys golf team, it would be easy to assume that the Pacers might take a significant step back this year.
Lakeridge returns just one of its top five players from last year's squad which missed out on a trip to state by the narrowest of margins.
But the Pacers have a large handful of talented younger players who are ready to fill in the gaps and, if things fall just right, Lakeridge could be very competitive again this season.
"It's a much younger team than we've had. We just lack experience but there's a ton of potential," coach Gary Huffmaster said.
If you're only going to have one returning varsity player, Cody Benko is a good place to start.
Benko has always had the ability to shoot very low scores and should be one of the top golfers in the league this season.
After Benko, Huffmaster is faced with the enviable problem of having to choose between a strong contingent of talented players to fill four positions.
"It's pretty wide open. We have a bunch of guys who can get hot. It's going to be exciting to see them compete," Huffmaster said.
Russell Seashore is expected to be in the mix for a varsity spot, along with David Zhou who Huffmaster said "probably has the most potential of our younger guys."
Casey Sherrell also has a lot of potential and Huffmaster says he has probably improved the most from the previous season.
And Randall Adler fired the team's second lowest score at its opening invitational.
"It's a whole new perspective for me because, since I've been here, it's pretty much been the same core group of guys," Huffmaster said.
The weather has made playing and practicing difficult so far this season but Huffmaster has been encouraged.
The Three Rivers League should be very solid again this year as it features the defending state champions in Lake Oswego along with strong teams from West Linn, Canby and Clackamas.
But the Pacers hope to be in the mix to finish in the top-two again.
"Originally I was a little skeptical but the more experience we get, the more I feel like we could make state," Huffmaster said.
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Lakeridge's girls team is small but talented this season.
Currently there are just seven players in the program but its top four players are solid and the team could vie for another trip to state this year.
The Pacers will be led by Connie Zhou who continues to improve and should be one of the elite golfers in the state this season.
"She's worked really hard on her game and we're trying to figure out her strengths and areas where she can improve," said new head coach Paula Ketchum.
Lakeridge should also get good rounds from Hana Campbell, a transfer from Colorado.
Anna Dooley and Grace Fix currently make up the team's top four with Adele Zwada figuring to swing between JV and varsity.
With a small squad, the Pacers won't have much margin for error but the team's core should be very competitive.
"We're focusing on our short game right now and working on different situations around the green. For me the main thing is having fun. I want the team to enjoy it," Ketchum said.
Lakeridge will see some of the best competition in the state in its own league.
The defending state champions from West Linn should be just as strong this year while Lake Oswego and Canby will also feature strong squads.
"It's a very tough league but that competition makes you better," Ketchum said.