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Brady Sauder (right) watches a shot from his son, Trey, at the Colbert Hills driving range in January. Trey played on Manhattan High’s junior varsity team in 2019. MHS head coach Brad Ficke said the younger Sauder now looks like a “completely different.” Manhattan begins its season Thursday in Wamego.

Head boys’ golf coach Brad Ficke calls Manhattan’s 2021 season “the anomaly year.”

In 21 years of coaching golf, Ficke has never led a roster this green onto the course. The Indians return just one letterwinner from the team that finished 10th at state in 2019. Grant Snowden was just a freshman when he shot 87 at Firekeeper Golf Course in Mayetta. Two years later, he’s Manhattan’s most experienced player.

That’s right. Six Indians are making their varsity debut while Manhattan competes in the Washburn Rural Invitational Thursday in Wamego, “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Ficke said. “There’s some kids who played JV, but the last time I saw them hit was at tryouts for a few days last year. I wish I could say it was just because of the youth but it’s, it’s, it’s more than that.”

The Indians actually boast an upperclassmen heavy roster. Senior Owen Braxmeyer, who just finished leading the Indians on the basketball court, will join them on the course. Fellow senior Cole Schmidt usually would play club soccer in the spring, but he’ll play for Ficke after opting not to pursue a college soccer career.

Ficke said Braxmeyer and Schmidt always have golfed, just never for their school. They’re still acclimating to mulligan-free rounds, a faster pace of play and competitive etiquette, but they played well enough during tryouts to make the team. And Ficke is confident that Braxmeyer’s success in hoops will transfer to golf.

“Owen’s an athlete,” Ficke said. “He’s no stranger to pressure. He’s going be successful in everything he does that involves athletic motion.”

Junior Trey Sauder, who played junior varsity golf at Manhattan in 2019, also has impressed Ficke during preseason practices. In Ficke’s words, Sauder is a “completely different” golfer than he was two years ago, and Ficke envisions Sauder improving quickly once he gains varsity experience.

Snowden earned that experience as a freshman, and now he’s two years stronger. His game looks “solid,” according to Ficke. Snowden still is honing his short game, but so is every player returning to golf after the long layoff.

“Anybody who plays golf knows that when you pick it up after the winter, the short game is the last thing to come,” Ficke said. “Nobody works harder than him. I think he’ll be just fine.”

Ficke will feel the same about his less experienced golfers. Eventually. In the meantime, he’s adjusting expectations. The Indians are used to multiple players breaking 80 during a tournament, but this year’s team still is “working toward” that benchmark.

The path leading toward that goal might prove ugly. A player who shoots 85 with their friends, Ficke said, might shoot 95 during a tournament, where parents follow their kids in golf carts, rules are strictly enforced and one bad shot can easily snowball into several.

“You rarely play your best golf in competition,” Ficke said. “They’re going to have to adjust their expectations and compensate for those nerves.”

However the Indians compensate, their first tournament in Wamego will help them grow. Entering Thursday, the Indians have no idea what to expect from this season.

By Friday, though, they’ll at least know what they need to work on before they play next.

“I think that that first tournament is going to be really, really good for them,” Ficke said. “I don’t know how it’ll be for their scores, but it’ll be good for them just as an education.”