Mingus Union golf coach John Uidenich has a line-up this season that would make basketball coaches envious.
All five starters return with a year of state tournament experience. Six others have played on the team for at least one year. Four freshmen stand ready to push the rest of the group and gain valuable experience for future seasons.
"I kept more (players) this year, but you just can't turn these kids away," Uidenich said. "For the next couple of years we should be the team to beat in our region."
The Marauders could be a force at state as well. Mingus surprised even Uidenich by tying for seventh in last year's 4A state championships. This year, a top five finish is not out of the realm of possibility.
Senior Joey Lay will captain the Marauders this season. He's been working at Verde Santa Fe in Cornville this summer and placed in the top one-third at state last year. Senior Phillip Giampietro, juniors Jacob Gould and Dylan Miles and sophomore Stephen Cook played with Lay in the 4A finale.
Giampietro set a Mingus record at Verde Santa Fe last year by carding a 35 during a nine-hole match. "He's solid," Uidenich said. "He's hitting the ball farther this year. I'm hoping he can surprise again."
Gould, who also works at Verde Santa Fe, fired a 76 on the second day at state in 2000. Miles has the lowest average on the team thus far this season, around 36 per nine holes.
Cook, who has grown from 5-11 to 6-4 over the past year, may win some long drive contests. He can send it 310-315 yards off the tee, Uidenich said.
"He's straight as a bullet," the coach said. "He's got a lot of future ahead of him."
Sophomores Corey Lay and Lindy Wilburn, junior Tony Sturgeon and seniors Troy Wennett, Jake Hughes and Joey Woods will look to challenge for a top five spot.
Sturgeon has been carding rounds in the high 30s and lower 40s in the preseason. Wennett serves as an emotional leader. Wilburn, the squad's lone female and a star on the Marauders' softball team, has shown no fear of playing with the boys.
"She's got a natural swing, and her short game is so good," Uidenich said.
Hughes also provides encouragement and team leadership. Woods, who returns from a year of study in Brazil, has a great swing and attitude. "The guys really enjoy playing with him."
Freshman Ryan Ontiveros may turn some heads with his drives. When his short-game ability catches up, look out.
"He's really top notch," Uidenich said. "He hits it as hard as Stephen and Dylan. He's starting to learn course management skills."
Cody Harkey, whose grandfather Howard coached golf at Mingus for 20 years, has been another impressive ninth-grader during preseason workouts. He's consistently scoring in the 30s and 40s. Anthony Lozano and Myles Latimer, two more freshmen, round out the roster. Craig Mai returns for another year as an assistant coach.
"(Mai) is a great role model for these guys," Uidenich said. "He's been a real plus for us."
Mingus will compete in a new region this season. The Marauders move from the Skyline to the Grand Canyon with Sinagua and Page, which are just starting golf programs. Next year, Coconino and Flagstaff will join the GCR, making it look much like the region other Mingus sports teams compete in.
"The bad news is that only one (GCR) team will go to state" this year, Uidenich said. For now, the Marauders look like the odds-on favorite.