HOUGHTON - The reigning Division 3 Upper Peninsula boys' golf champion Jeffers Jets will have their work cut out for them at an unfamiliar course against some unfamiliar competition.
Aside from a practice round Wednesday evening, neither coach Jason Koski nor his players had seen the Escanaba Country Club, where they will tee off today in defense of their title.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to a repeat is another team in search of a repeat: St. Ignace, which won the Division 2 boys' title last year before dropping to Division 3 this year. The Jets fired a 321 for their title last year, while St. Ignace shot a 307 combined team score, albeit at different courses.
"St. Ignace is in our division this year, Munising is tough, Crystal Falls (Forest Park), North Central," said Koski, whose team has also faced some stiff competition from the Copper Country Conference.
"Ontonagon for our conference is right there, too. Anytime you have competition it's good," he said.
In the few golf meets the weather has permitted to take place this year, the Gladiators have gradually made up ground against the Jets, losing by 35 strokes in the first meet, just eight in the second meet and edging Jeffers 353-355 at the Sandretto Invitational May 22.
"Jeffers has a strong team, but every meet we've closed in on them a little bit," first-year Ontonagon coach Andy Borseth said. "We got them in the Sandretto, but they were missing two of their top guys."
Both teams' top guns have been neck and neck this year with Jeffers' Stephen Butina edging Ontonagon's Brandon Jilbert in a playoff hole May 20 in Ontonagon after both carded 75s through 18 holes.
While Matt Zerbst, who shot a 79 at last year's U.P. Finals, graduated last year, Jeffers still returns plenty of depth with four other golfers returning, including Butina. Tyler Bailey, who also shot a 79 at last year's U.P. Finals, and Christopher and Alex Outinen are all capable of carding scores in the 70s.
Dylan Morris, freshman Logan Jilbert - who has moved up to the No. 3 slot - and David Pollard round out Ontonagon's top four boys.
Lake Linden-Hubbell's Trevor Ongie, who shot a 78 in Ontonagon earlier this year, is also a local contender for medalist honors.
On the girls' side, reigning U.P. D3 runner-up Jeffers is in a bit of rebuilding year while Ontonagon figures to be a solid threat to place in the meet at Escanaba's Highland Golf Club.
"I haven't really looked to deep into the other conferences, but we've done well in our conference," said Borseth, who also coaches the Gladiator girls. "We did well at the Sandretto and we're hoping to be top three anyways. Senior Chloe Ashley, I'd like to see her make a run at medalist."
Ontonagon has tallied a 235 over nine holes earlier this year, which extrapolated over 18 holes matches last year's fourth-place finish (470) by Forest Park. Ashley carded a 105 last year at finals, and she carded a 99 at the Sandretto this season. Forest Park's multi-sport standout Lexie Gussert won medalist last year with a 90.
Abby Domitrovich and Erin Majurin are penciled in as the Gladiators' second and third golfers behind Ashley.
For the Jets, Koski said he just expects a solid effort in building toward the future. Shelby Seppanen will lead Jeffers, which shot a team 290 over nine holes in Ontonagon earlier this year.
Baraga's Rebecca Larson, who edged Ashley by one stroke at Ontonagon, and LL-H's Ciara Larson, who was just two back of Ashley, should also be in the mix for medalist.