WHITEFISH – The Whitefish Bulldogs have won five Class A boys golf titles since 2004, including the last two. In that span, they have had three individual state champions: Chris Connors in 2005, Sam Krause in 2006 and Reed Platke in 2009.
Meanwhile, the girls have also claimed two team titles during that period, giving them 15 altogether under head coach Terry Nelson. The boys have won nine titles in Nelson’s tenure, now in its 26th year.
But despite the girls’ team success in the past decade, they haven’t had an individual champion since the late 1990s, when Lyndsie Jensen claimed the Class A title. Several girls have knocked on the door, though, and perhaps nobody has knocked as loudly as Kiley McConnell.
Now in her senior year, McConnell has emerged as a top-three golfer in Class A, along with Sidney’s Katelyn Frank and Billings Central’s Kyla Clancy, who finished first and second, respectively, at last year’s state tournament. McConnell finished fourth, 12 strokes behind Frank.
But McConnell has been on fire in 2010. She opened up the season by winning the Anaconda Invitational on Aug. 16 by nine strokes. Then she won the Ronan Invitational by 11 strokes after shooting a 77. Teammate and fellow senior Danielle McCully finished second.
On Aug. 24, McConnell pulled off her third consecutive – and most significant – victory at the Great Falls Invitational, a tournament featuring 14 Class AA schools. McConnell shot a 74 and 82 en route to a scorecard-playoff win over C.M. Russell’s Katie Fish, who also finished with a 156.
“Kiley has made huge strides,” Nelson said. “Last year, she was shooting in the mid-80s, maybe low 80s, and now she’s in the 70s. That 74 in Great Falls, that was beating the best of the best.”
McConnell said she worked less this summer and had more time to enjoy herself, which meant more time on the golf course. And, as Nelson has noticed, the extra time is paying off.
“I’m just trying to do my best,” McConnell said. “Keep it in the fairway and stay safe.”
Platke, a 16-year-old junior, is aiming for his second straight Class A individual title. In last year’s state championship, he shot a 113 over 27 holes to win by four strokes. Platke would be shooting for his third straight title if Billings Central’s Preston Matchett hadn’t made an impressive final-round charge in the 2008 state tournament.
In that tournament, Platke, a freshman, shot a 76 in the first round to take the overall lead. Matchett trailed by four strokes. But in the second round, Matchett shot a 71 to beat Platke, who shot another 76, by one stroke.
But Platke, the consummate team player, said he didn’t lose any sleep over the 2009 loss.
“The team won state and that’s all that matters,” he said.
Platke said his ultimate goal is winning four team titles in his high school career. Three individual titles wouldn’t be too bad either. So far this season, he’s consistently been shooting in the low 70s. During a recent qualifying round on Whitefish’s South Course, he shot a 66 – 31 and 35.
“He’s such a solid player,” Nelson said. “He has absolutely no weaknesses and his mental approach – his confidence – is so strong.”
This year, in his bid for title No. 2, Platke will face some of his stiffest competition from a trio of Hamilton stars: Eli Rogers, Tyler Jessop and Brad Palin, who have all consistently shot in the 70s so far. And a fourth teammate, Kyle Lubke, has been nipping at their heels.
As a team, Hamilton is clearly the biggest threat to end Whitefish’s championship streak.
“We’ll definitely be in contention,” Nelson said. “Hamilton is the team to beat, but they’ll be looking over their shoulder.”
With Platke as their anchor, the Bulldogs also feature Arthur Doorn, a freshman shooting in the mid-70s; transfer Camp Kenyon; and sophomores Iaian Cameron and Kyle Barrons. Nelson will look to three seniors for leadership: Dylan Parr, Carl Talsma and Kyler Blades.
For girls, Billings Central is the team to beat, but Nelson thinks his squad is a top-three contender capable of making a run at the title. In addition to McConnell and McCully, Nelson is also excited about senior Emma Dowaliby, junior Klaire Taylor and sophomore Haley Craven. Craven had never played golf before this year, but Nelson said you’d be hard-pressed to tell.
“She has a phenomenal swing; an unbelievably nice, natural swing,” he said.
Rounding out the roster are three talented freshmen in Erin Tabish, Simone Craft and Daley Powell. Between newcomer Craven and the freshmen, Nelson expects his Lady Bulldogs to be contenders for years to come.
“These girls are the future of the Bulldogs,” Nelson said, “and they’re good.”
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