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2013 Spring Preview: East Ridge boys golf team taking its swing, shooting for state

Last year, East Ridge golfers Travis Dorf, left, and Brady Hanson represented the Raptors at the state tournament. The seniors return with hopes of helping East Ridge reach state as a team this spring.

Last year, East Ridge golfers Brady Hanson and Travis Dorf represented the Raptors at the state tournament. This year, they hope to bring the whole team along for the ride.

A year ago, East Ridge was the surprise team of the Section 3AAA tournament. Out of section play, only one team advances to state, along with five individuals not on the top team.

In the two-day, 36-hole tourney, the Raptors held a four-stroke lead after the first day, shooting a 309 at Keller Golf Course in St. Paul. However, East Ridge shot a 322 on the second day at Coon Rapids' Bunker Hills Golf Course to finish runner-up with an overall score of 631 - five strokes back of section champion Eagan, which shot 626.

"I think it was an educational experience for us, because we had never really been that far," said East Ridge head coach Brett Brookins, who is in his fourth year with the program. "The majority of them were juniors. The kids now see it as a very feasible goal for us this year. They've been there. It's different when you've been there."

Though East Ridge narrowly missed a state berth as a team, the Raptors sent Hanson and Dorf to the big dance. However, both said it stung not winning it all.

"It would have been way better to make it as a team," said Hanson, a senior captain this season. "We were right there. It's just one or two holes that can make the difference. Hopefully we can make it this year."

Individually, Hanson finished with the third-best round overall at sections with a two-day 152, shooting a 74 on the first day and a 78 on day No. 2. Dorf, also a senior this year, had the fourth-best round, shooting a 154 with an 80 on the day No. 1 and a 74 on day No. 2.

At state, Dorf finished in a six-way tie for 42nd place out of 88 competitors with a two-day 158 on the par-72 course. Hanson was a stroke back, in a seven-way tie for 48th place with a 159.

Hanson and Dorf return to the lineup this year and will very likely be the No. 1 and 2 golfers on what will be a senior-heavy squad. Both Hanson and Dorf will play college golf next year. Dorf already signed with Concordia University of St. Paul. Hanson has it down to two schools, but hasn't picked one yet.

"This is big," Dorf said. "It's the last opportunity before college to show what you have. Going on to play college golf keeps me going. But, I have a love for the game and passion for it. That drives me."

Brookins said 40 boys are trying out for the team this year, but only 24 will make it. He said he imagines there will be four or five seniors on the varsity lineup card. The Raptors lost only Jaik Winbush, the team's No. 2 or 3 golfer, and Brandon Johnson, who wasn't a varsity regular, to graduation off of last year's club.

"The majority of us are seniors this year," Dorf said. "A lot of the guys have been around for a long time. I feel like this is a good opportunity for us to go to state this year."

Along with Hanson and Dorf, Brookins said he expects junior Jack Caron, a team captain, to be one of the team's top three golfers. Beyond that, Brookins said he could fill the next three varsity spots with as many as eight golfers.

"It's a good problem to have," he said.

Each of the seniors on the East Ridge golf team this year have been with the program for four years, since they were freshmen. East Ridge opened in 2009.

"They're all kids who have been on the team since day one," Brookins said. "It's special. I have a lot of invested interest in a lot of these guys. I think it shows on what they give back to the program."

This season, Brookins said he believes Forest Lake, Stillwater and Hastings will be the teams to beat in the Suburban East Conference.

East Ridge finished in sixth place overall in the 10-team SEC last year. Hanson earned All-Conference honors, while Winbush and Caron were each All-Conference honorable mention winners.

In section play, Hastings and Eagan will likely be the Raptors' main competition for a state berth. Hastings, especially, will be a team to watch this year. The Raiders have been fielding the same lineup for the past three seasons - and won the SEC Championship tourney last year.

For the first time in a long time the SEC Championship and first day of the Section 3AAA Championship won't be played at Keller, which is under construction.

The SEC tourney will be held at Indian Hills Golf Course in Stillwater on May 21. The Section 3AAA tournament will take place on May 28 and 31 at Goodrich Golf Club in Maplewood and Bunker Hills, respectively.

Weather permitting, the season is set to kick off with an invitational at Troy Burne Golf Club on April 8. East Ridge is then hoping to host an invitational on April 15 at Stone Ridge Golf Club in Stillwater. The conference schedule begins on April 16 at Woodbury's Prestwick Golf Club.

"It's kind of all built up to this final season," Hanson said. "I feel like we've worked hard since ninth grade. Hopefully it'll all come together this year."