In the swing of things
Brad Hubred was just on the bus ride home Tuesday night with his Moose Lake-Willow River golf team when he finished his interview and handed his phone over to Brent Donaldson — his fellow coach from just up the road in Barnum.
Yes, the neighboring Rebels and Bombers were traveling together — a sight not often seen between the pair of small school arch rivals.
"It's a friendly rivalry," said Hubred.
The only thing the ML-WR and Barnum golfers have had to rival, along with every spring sport across the state, has been Mother Nature.
A frigid April filled with cold temperatures and snow flurries has set most prep sports back a month. Golfers, however, have had it the worst.
Many courses are still drying up, although some are playable, like Grand National in Hinckley, where the Rebels and Bombers took the course, having had limited time outdoors.
"We came in without a swing on a real golf course," said Hubred, who is in his third season at ML-WR, part of Section 7AA.
"It was the first time we stepped foot on a course," added Donaldson, now in his second year with Barnum, in 7A.
To pass the nearly two months of being indoors prior to Tuesday's opening meet, both coaches have been quite creative in their practices plans.
Hubred took his team to Riverside Arena in Moose Lake to hit balls often, while they also used a simulator to best replicate a round of golf digitally.
Donaldson, meanwhile, said his team hit the media center carpet for putting and hitting nets in the hallways of Barnum High.
"Then we migrated out to the parking lot," he said with a laugh.
The Bombers were able to get some wedges in on the nearby baseball field too, but nothing that replicated Hinckley's championship course Tuesday.
Leading Barnum on Tuesday was freshman Madelyn Jepsen, who carded 100 stokes on 18 holes. Like Jepsen, Madeline Nelson, Delaney Koecher, Maddie Manahan and Olivia Stahlbush are all back for an experienced team of eight girls.
Junior Brandon Calverly shot an 84 Tuesday for the boys, as he is also back for a team of 11, including Lucas Koecher, Trevor Houck, Sam Godbout, Reese Godbout, Dawson Collelo, Isaac Konu and Miles Agurkis — all returning for the Bombers.
In fact, Donaldson has four sets of siblings in his 19 total golfers, including the Kochers, Godbouts, Jepsens and Manahans.
"I like it," Donaldson said. "We're keeping it all in the family."
At ML-WR, Hubred has 13 boys and 12 girls on his roster, including five returning on the girls' end in Ruby Mohelsky, Adre Dobosenski, Maren Mesojedec, Elle Neumann and Emily Bohnsack. Mohelsky, a senior, fired a 95 on Tuesday to lead all Rebels.
Looking at nearby courses, Donaldson added that he and his team will be doing their annual course cleanup at their home turf of 29 Pines in Mahtowa on Saturday.
"And the plan is for it to open on Sunday," Donaldson said.
Meanwhile, Moose Lake is playable, said Hubred, who's team took to the public course Monday for the first time before being forced off by — again — inclement weather.
"It's been tough," Hubred said. "We even thought about taking our team pictures in the snow."
"We lost the whole month of April," Donaldson said. "Now we've got three weeks to get in as much golf as we can."
Lady 'Jacks expect to play home course soon
The same can be said in Cloquet, although the Cloquet Country Club is still not open, said third-year Cloquet-Esko Carlton girls coach Matt Carlson, who was a former employee of CCC for 15 years.
Carlson expects his Lady Lumberjacks will hit the course early next week. He and sixth-year boys coach Jon Horbacz have just been able to get on the driving range early this week.
Still, it's something better than being in a gymnasium.
"It feels good to get out and start hitting a little bit," Carlson said.
Carlson noted his squad started a little later in the season than most, practicing on mornings at the Cloquet Middle School for the past couple of weeks. He said with just a team of 10 girls, he is looking to positively rebuild the CEC program, which has girls from Cloquet, Esko and Carlton.
Of the ones with experience include Cloquet's Taylor Anderson and Gracie Chartier, along with Alisha Broneak of Carlton.
Carlson highlighted one of the biggest area meets of the year is the Cloquet Invitational, which welcomes over 100 golfers to CCC on May 23. ML-WR will also host the Lumberjacks on May 14 in Moose Lake.
"Hopefully, we get it all in," Carlton said.
C-E boys move down to 7AA
While the girls reside in 7AAA, Horbacz's Cloquet-Esko boys have moved down a classification to 7AA this spring. Mix that with a large returning cast of 15 boys, including Esko's Keegan Poppenberg and Matt Radovich, as well as Cloquet's Sam Baker and Anthony McKay, and the Lumberjacks' chances look bright later this month.
"They should have a good run at the conference and sections," said Horbacz. "(This game) does some weird things, but if we can get over the mental hump, we'll be just fine."
Poppenberg perhaps has the biggest mental hurdle, having come up one stroke short of state last spring, losing in a playoff hole in Section 7AAA.
Turns out, Poppenberg has looked good early, scoring a blistering 69 in a practice round already, Horbacz noted.
Thus, the talent is there and the opportunity is great for Horbacz's gentlemen of the course.
"I've been with these guys since seventh grade," Horbacz said. "It's been fun to see them grow. And it'll be exciting to see how it all unfolds this spring."