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STATE GOLF: Lesnar making first trip in Class AA

Photo Courtesy of Rand Middleton/West Central Tribune Luverne's Ben Nath hits a tee shot during the Section 3AA golf tournament on June 2 in Willmar.1 / 2
Daniel Kerwin/Daily Globe Worthington's Kate Lesnar plays her approach shot to Hole 13 during the Southwest Conference Tournament May 23 at Worthington Country Club.2 / 2

JORDAN -- Kaylee Benson and Kate Lesnar are used to competing in the same tournaments, but the two girls will have vastly different experiences when the Class AA state golf tournament gets underway at the Ridges at Sand Creek golf course today.

Benson -- a junior at Jackson County Central -- is making her fourth straight appearance at the tournament and has become accustomed to all the ins and outs of competing at the highest level, but Lesnar is in for a brand new experience with this being her first trip to state.

This will also be the first time that the Worthington sophomore has had to compete in a two-day, 36-hole tournament at any level.

"One of the things that is a new hurdle is the concept of having to participate in a 36-hole tournament at a highly competitive level," WHS head coach Ron Wood said. "To this point in time whenever we've had a big tournament they've only been 18 holes. This is another part of the learning experience for her, is how do you manage yourself on the first day? You try to make sure you don't take yourself out of the tournament on the first day and then you make your time to sit down and say, 'OK, what are our decisions for tomorrow?'"

Lesnar has been a top golfer for Worthington since the start of her varsity career, but despite qualifying for the sectional tournament in previous years she always fell just short of making it to state.

She was determined to end the trend this season, and now that she has she will finally get the chance to test her game against the top competition in the state.

"She is ready," Wood said. "She wants to play. This is what her goal was at the beginning of the year as an individual, to break through the wall at sections and get on to the next level. Her goal now is to go up and see what the competition is like, see what it's like to compete at this level. If she gets hot, who knows, but now it's a matter of getting used to the play at the next level."

Lesnar made the qualifying score at the June 2 sectional tournament in Willmar by a single stroke, but in the two weeks since then she has been ironing out some of the kinks in her game -- including chipping from the rough and keeping her drives from straying to the right.

"Kate is a very dedicated person who really works hard," Wood said. "She saw some of the shortcomings in sections and she's been working hard to improve... She's knows where she's got to work on stuff, and I think that's a good sign."

Benson qualified for the state tournament in much different fashion, tying for medalist honors at sections with a round of 77.

She will enter the tournament as one of the top veterans in the field will a total of 10 rounds at Ridges at Sand Creek under her belt from her previous state tournament rounds and practice rounds and will be looking to keep her momentum going from her good play at sections.

"Her experience on this course will definitely benefit her," JCC head coach Mike DiBrito said. "I would say that having this many years up at the tournament should definitely give her some confidence for the tournament, though it's still a tough platform."

Although in a great position to achieve her best ever finish at the tournament, DiBrito and Benson haven't established a concrete goal as to where they expect her to place in the tournament.

"We haven't talked about result goals at all," DiBrito said. "She's going there to play her best and we'll see where the scores fall."

Both girls have had no shortage of support on the course throughout the season, but they are bound to be playing in front of their biggest gallery of the year with parents, grandparents and other relatives and teammates expected to make the trip to Jordan to be in attendance.

"(Kaylee) will have a lot of support and backing, that's for sure," DiBrito said. "I can guarantee that. She's had it all year. Her grandparents, her parents and aunts and uncles, they've been watching her all year. It's not just a couple people."

No matter the results for the pair during the tournament, their mere presence at the tournament has spread benefits throughout their schools' golf programs.

Benson has helped turn the JCC girls' team into a threat to qualify for the state tournament as a team during her senior year. The hope for the WHS program is that Lesnar will not only set a benchmark for herself to contend for another state tournament berth in her next two seasons, but that by becoming the first Worthington golfer to qualify in over a decade that her teammates will be given some extra motivation to join her.

"I'm hoping we build a strong foundation this particular year so that as we move into her junior and senior year of golf that she feels really good about it," Wood said.

Lesnar tees off today at 12:27 p.m. and Benson will tee off at 1:21 p.m.

Nath will represent Luverne in tough boys' field

The Luverne boys' golf team engaged in tight battles with the Marshall Tigers all throughout the season.

Now LHS senior Ben Nath will be the only member of his team up against some familiar Marshall opponents at the state tournament at Ridges at Sand Creek golf course.

Nath was the only Cardinal to shoot low enough to make a tough cut at the sectional tournament in Willmar by tying for medalist honors with a round of 75, with the Tigers taking the team title at the meet.

Nath's good form has continued during his practice rounds over the past couple of weeks.

"We had our practice round today," Luverne head coach John Sichmeller said. "The course is in really nice shape and Ben hit the ball really well, we're hoping that it carries over. He's had some good practice rounds lately just this last week during practice, so we're hoping his good scores keep going."

Nath got some experience at the course last year when the Cardinals qualified for state as a team and should be poised to compete with the best that the field has to offer.

"He can hit all the shots that anybody else can, so I'm hoping he can do well," Sichmeller said. "It's just how well he plays I guess. I think he's kind of figured out that he belongs with the other better players, so he doesn't get too worried about playing with anybody else. He thinks he can play with anybody."

Nath will start his first round at 8:33 a.m. today.