Hannibal enters the spring with expectations as high as ever as the Pirates seek their sixth consecutive North Central Missouri Conference championship.
Senior Trevor Watson putts on the green at Norwoods Golf Course surrounded by a Hannibal boys golf team much different than ones he remembers from past seasons.
Gone are graduated state qualifiers Jack Baumann and Jack Richards, who joined Watson at the Class 3 tournament last May.
Now present are new faces primed to make an impact.
“I've always had players above me and I've had to compete with them, and now it's just players my age or younger,” Watson said. “It's a whole different feel, and I kind of like it. If we play well, I feel like we can go just as far as any other team in the past, and we hope for that this year."
Seeking its sixth consecutive North Central Missouri Conference championship, Hannibal enters the spring with expectations as high as ever after claiming the Class 3 District 4 title and advancing to sectionals as a team last season.
The Pirates open the 2017 season with a home triangular meet against Mexico and Louisiana at 4 p.m. on March 22.
“Our goal is still going to be the conference title, then districts and then qualify as many as we can for state,” said head coach Jason Noland, in his fourth year leading the program. “That's always going to be our goal, and I think it should be our goal.”
Senior Connor Bogue, who finished two strokes off qualifying for the state meet last season, returns and figures to join Watson as a key component of the Pirates top five.
Bogue placed first at last year's district meet with a score of 76, four strokes better than the rest of the field at Eldon Golf Club. He then encountered trouble with a tough outing at sectionals.
“Two out of my last three years, I've been very close to making it to state,” Bogue said. “Coming very close is not necessarily where I want to be, so I know I want to be there this year.”
Junior Gabe Falconer also is back after missing the state cut by three strokes last season.
Freshmen Preston Bennett and Josh Paubel have impressed during preseason practices enough to work their way into varsity contention, while junior Nathan Lewton is another candidate in the mix to round out the five varsity spots.
“We have good, quality guys coming back,” Noland said. “And we have a couple freshmen and a junior that'll be fighting out the four and five spot, probably.”
While the squad recognizes it has a different look, Noland said he views this season as an opportunity for the team's next generation to emerge.
“The last couple years, we've had consistent kids coming up that started off as freshmen as varsity players,” he said. “But just like everything, it changes. We miss those guys, but we're going to keep going on and keep doing what we should do.
“Every high school season in every sport, you lose your seniors last year and you expect the underclassmen to step up and take that leadership role. We have a couple really good seniors in Trevor and Connor, and they're just going to try to lead in their way."