COTTONWOOD-Several players from the Mingus golf team said the current roster is the best they've seen at Mingus--they're excited about new talent added to the already solid team core.
The team had success last year. They made it to state and placed in the top 10.
This year will be different because Mingus lost the two best players from last season, and the AIA changed the rules for state qualifying. Nevertheless the team is motivated, hard working, and confident.
"I've played all four years I've been at Mingus and this is by far one of the best teams we've had since I've been here," said senior and team number one Wally Wilburn. "We've got a lot of talented players coming up, they're shooting pretty low scores for freshman, so we're pretty excited about that."
Wilburn also said he was playing his best golf, but there is still room for improvement.
"I'm shooting the best scores that I have," said Wilburn. "I need to improve my longer irons. My strength is putting and chipping for sure, the short game."
The whole freshman class shows potential, but the freshmen Wilburn spoke of are Gary Baker and Ryan Sullivan. They could contribute sooner than later if they keep shooting as low as they have.
"We've got a real good group of freshman who have really impressed me. I'm very excited to see them part of the club," said Mingus Golf Coach Craig Mai.
Mike Rebstein and Travis Talbot are the other seniors on the team.
Rebstein agrees with Wilburn that the team this year should be very good.
"This year I've been surprised by the freshman. Wally and I are grateful that they've come up, and it should be a pretty good year. I'm really excited," said Rebstein.
It's not all about the freshman. Coach Mai is happy about where his seniors are at and where they're headed.
"Coming into this year I had a lot of questions, we graduated our top two golfers (Richard Painter and Travis Duwyenie), and so I was a little cautious, but for the first three weeks now I've been very pleased with how everyone's stepped up. We've got three seniors who have improved from last year," said Mai. "Wally Wilburn has been our consistent number one and I've just been pleased with how he's been able to place the ball. Last year he could do that, but not as consistently. Mikey Rebstein has done a fantastic job for us, he's one of our captains and he's really improved. Travis Talbot was a transfer student last year who could hit the ball a mile, but wasn't under control-now he's got it under control and can keep the ball in play. So I'm very pleased with those three."
JC Lawler, the only junior on the team, is battling his teammates for a top spot on the team.
"It's a friendly rivalry, so I'm glad that we're keeping each other on our toes," said Lawler. "I think our top five is very strong, it's the strongest I've seen it in a few years. We're looking pretty good so far, so I'm happy."
Lawler is already trying to prepare for next year when he has to take the reigns from the seniors.
"My personal goals are to become a better golfer and a good leader. I'll be the only senior next year, so I want to prepare to be a team leader," said Lawler.
Coach Mai recognizes Lawler's motivation and appreciates his effort.
"Junior JC Lawler has been working hard on his game. We're very pleased with what he's doing. I know he's put a lot of effort into his game over the summer," said Mai.
Lawler, like all of his teammates, respects the coaching ability of coach Mai.
"Coach Mai is a really good coach. I respect him and he knows what he's talking about. I know that we'll do well under his control," said Lawler.
Coach Mai has just as much respect for his players as they have for him.
"I'm very proud of the golf team. I feel very fortunate because we have just a great group of young men that not only represent me and our golf program, but represent Mingus very well. They behave themselves and understand proper etiquette on the golf course. They carry themselves as fine young gentleman on and off the course and I'm very proud of them," said Mai. "Their parents have done a very good job. It makes my job a lot easier because I can trust them when I'm not there."
The behavior of the Mingus players probably has a lot to do with the great relationships the team has formed with the local golf courses.
"Both Pine Shadows and Verde Santa Fe have been very supportive of our program. Tom at Verde Santa Fe has been wonderful. We worked out a great deal where the kids can come to the course and work Saturday morning for a couple hours in the off-season," said Mai. "If they do that then they get free golf for a week. That's just been critical to the success of our golf program because it gives the kids an opportunity to practice when they otherwise couldn't afford it. We're very fortunate that our two local golf courses have been so supportive and committed to helping out our youth."
By now the team knows the local courses like the back of their hands, The season schedule has the team playing on courses Rebstein isn't familiar with, but he's up for the challenge.
"We'll be playing on some courses I haven't played before. Even though I have been here four years, we're still getting a lot of new ones," said Rebstein. "But in the big tournaments we play every year, it's always fun to see if we can beat our old score. I'm really excited for the Page tournament-I haven't played there before, just seen it from the highway."
The most meaningful tournament on the schedule will be the John Uidenich Memorial Invitational on Oct. 22 at Verde Santa Fe. Rebstein is glad he'll be a part of memorializing the former Mingus golf coach.
"It's heart touching. He was one of the guys I went to Australia with my sophomore year. He was a father figure to me, and I miss him a lot," said Rebstein.
Coach Mai said naming the tournament to honor Uidenich was a no brainer.
"He was the golf coach for a long time. The kids really enjoyed having him around. Even after he retired the kids would ask, 'when are we going to get Johnny U out here?' This year's seniors and JC are really the last group that was close with coach Uidenich. It's nice that we'll have this one year where the John Uidenich Memorial Invitational will really mean something to the older golfers. We're going to miss him. He'll definitely be there with us."