The Heart River boys golf team have finished no lower than third at the Class B state tournament over the last four years.
With every new spring that approaches, the Cougars are expected to excel, and every year that the spring season comes to an end, the Cougars have produced tremendous results. However, the one person who has guided the team through so much success has stepped down from his position. Longtime Heart River head coach Jerry Perdaems, arguably the most influential golf figure from the South Heart/Belfield community, elected to retire at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
Taking over the program is Ronnie Stewart, who also coached Heart River's girls basketball team.
"I find myself in these positions quite a bit," Stewart said. "I replaced a National Hall of Fame coach at Hazen when I replaced Darrell Berglund, and now I get to replace another great coach in Jerry Perdaems. He has been here for so long and has always worked hard."
Stewart inherits a Cougars team that also has to replace the production of graduates Trace Jacobson and Jayden Ewoniuk.
The duo were not only terrific golfers at the high school level, respectively finishing third and in a tie for eighth at state, they are now playing at the collegiate level. Jacobson is a freshman at Iowa Lakes Community College, while Ewoniuk is in his first year at Valley City State.
Tying with Ewoniuk at state last season was senior Jett Mattson, who now takes over the mantle as team leader.
"That experience is valuable, especially from the mental aspect," said Stewart, of Mattson's showing at state. "Heart River has always had some of the best golf teams in the state, and with him playing behind two seniors that were always duking it out for first and second, he, at the state tournament, found himself right at the top of the leaderboard after day one. I think he's really hungry and I think he'll be able to come back better than ever. Hopefully, he'll be able to share (with his teammates) what to expect if they ever get in that position."
Behind Mattson, sophomore Jacob Robb adds state experience at the top of the Heart River lineup and is someone Stewart said will be in the thick of every tournament this year. Fellow sophomore Nick Fagerberg is a returner from last season, while junior Caden McCormick is a newcomer to the team. Junior Shay Olson is returning to the program after taking last season off.
"The expectations are still to compete, but losing those two valuable seniors, it's definitely not going to be ours to lose when it comes to a regional title," Stewart said. "We knew that with the exit of those two seniors, it's going to be a tight race to even win our region. ... I do feel like we can and should finish in the first or second spot in the region, but it's definitely going to be a different dynamic from what Heart River golf has been the last few years."
With two returning All-Region golfers in sophomores Gehrig Geiss and Grant Gerving, Western Morton County is shaping up to strong Region 5 threat. As freshmen, Gerving tied for 64th at state while Geiss paced the team after he was locked in a five-way tie for 31st. Two years ago, Geiss took home 11th.
"(Gerving) is more of a "feel" golfer, so the shots that he hits is based off what he feels instead of like 'this is an exact number and I'm going to hit this club this far,'" Western Morton County head coach Jordan Kautzman said. "Playing a lot more golf and being a lot more consistent with a lot of things has helped him. Gerhig plays a number of holes, every day, every week, all the time. He's been to a couple of tournaments out of the state over the course of the summertime and the winter time, so I think them just playing golf has definitely helped them out."
Western Morton County is also backed by a group of seniors in Chauncey Dittus, Evan Henke, and Tayt Wolding, who are each entering their fourth season with the program.
Henke was three places behind Gerving at state last year, sitting in a tie for 67th, while Dittus and Wolding earned spots in the top 100. Despite all of them receiving most of their recognition and notoriety in other sports, the trio offers loads of intangibles to the team.
"Those guys have been through a number of different things in other sports as All-State football players or state-champion wrestlers; they bring that kind of experience to golf," Kautzman said.
"They aren't as experienced in golf, but they still have that leadership quality where other players look up to them. They know that they'll be willing to put the work in every day after practice or on the weekends. They put in a lot of extra time and lead by example."