ELKO – Last season, the Elko boys golf team did not qualify for the state tournament.
In 2018, the Indians and new coach Jeff Sarbacker are looking for a return to the big dance.
“Our goal is to finish in the top-three for our league and be better when we finish the season than we are right now,” Sarbacker said.
Sarbacker, who took over for Marc Suyematsu during the girls golf season in the fall, made the same transition to the helm of the boys program.
Suyematsu will coach the Elko junior varsity team, as he did with the Lady Indians to start the school year.
While the Indians did not compete at state last season, Elko did place a golfer in the 2017 state tournament.
Elko’s lone competitor in the state tourney, Cauy Mead, graduated and has left some big shoes to fill in the 2018 slate.
Mead was a 1st-Team All-League selection for the Indians, finishing one spot out of a 1st-Team All-State honor last year – placing seventh in the state tournament at Spring Creek Golf Course.
He closed with a two-day card of 162 on rounds of 83 and 79, missing a 1st-Team All-State nod by two strokes.
The Indians will be without senior Garett Demaline, who is not playing golf this season after finishing with Elko’s third-best average score last year as a junior.
Two of Elko’s other golfers nearly joined Mead in the state tournament last season, each barely missing the cut.
Cache Black and Jonathan Simonsen are back for their senior years, both looking to take the next steps in lowering their scores to all-league levels and leading the Indians back to the state tourney.
Black missed out on the state tourney last season by an average of just one stroke, finishing with the year with a 91.7 card per league event – a pair of 90.7s serving as the final number to state.
Simonsen also flirted with a state-qualifying number, averaging just more than 92 strokes per round during his junior campaign.
Although Mead and Demaline are gone, most of Elko’s golfers come with experience.
Elko returns sophomore Kelby Criss and senior Viren Bhakta, each receiving ample playing time on the varsity team last year.
The Indians have added junior Cade Chappell to the mix, also bringing in freshman Kaden Konakis.
Elko gained the presence of senior Kani Haggerty – who moved from Idaho Falls – and sophomore Derek Peters has a solid chance to compete for one of six varsity positions throughout the course of the year.
“We have 15 total players in the program, and there are about eight of them who are playing for six spots on the varsity,” Sarbacker said. “As a group, we will be working a lot on mental toughness and our overall game. We have to get better with our short-game, chipping and putting. Those are the areas we can most efficiently cut strokes.”
Like other teams in the area in every sport, the Indians have struggled finding course time with the snow and cold, yet to hold an outside practice.
“We haven’t been on the course except for the Icebreaker Tournament,” Sarbacker said. “Don Smales letting us practice in Game Changer Golf has been such a blessing.”
The Indians competed in the annual Icebreaker Tournament on Wednesday in Winnemucca against Spring Creek and Lowry, Elko finishing in third place by 30 strokes behind second-place Lowry.
The Spartans won the event with a score of 341, followed by a 348 by the Buckaroos – the Indians closing with a team score of 378.
Elko was led by Chappell, who finished the day with a round of 93.
He was followed by a 94 from Haggerty, a 95 from Simonsen and Criss rounded out the top-four scoring – which was changed from five this season – with a score of 96.
Konakis finished fifth on Elko’s roster with a round of 98, and a pair of 100s by Black and Bhakta closed out the top-six scores for the Indians.
Peters finished the day with a score of 102.
Despite not going through an outdoor practice, the league season is right around the corner – Elko opening the Division 3A North schedule at 11 a.m. Monday in Dayton – a daunting course.
“Dayton is a very tough course, but the rest of them should be downhill from there,” Sarbacker said. “Hopefully, we can shoot well Monday and drop our scores more on Tuesday.”
The second league event of the season is slated for 11 a.m. Tuesday in Fernley, typically a score-friendly course.