Mandan's girls golf team has been building toward something big, and this might be the year.
That's not to say the Braves have been irrelevant recently. Far from it, in fact. Coach Dean Johs' team has placed fourth at the state tournament each of the last two seasons.
What makes 2018 so promising is that every girl that contributed to those two top-notch teams is back this fall.
"We're pretty excited about this year to see where it goes," Johs said. "We think experience is going to be our trump card."
No team in North Dakota returns as much quality as Mandan as the West Region season gets underway today at the Turtle Mountain Invite at Garden Gate Golf Club in Dunseith, N.D.
Based off last season's scoring averages, and subtracting 2018 graduated golfers, the Braves return six of the top 27 players in the West Region.
"It doesn't happen very often where you return this many quality players," Johs said. "The girls are very excited for the season. They definitely have some high goals that we believe are attainable."
The Braves are led by seniors Cortnie Mongeon and Payton Roehrich, who ranked seventh and 10th in the West last season.
Seniors McKayla Swallow (26th), Victoria Wu (30th) and Sophie Lind (39th) have bagged three years of varsity experience already.
Deona Roehrich is capable of going low. She ranked 18th in the conference last season as a freshman.
Significant time has been spent working on their short games throughout the summer and during early-season practices. Johs also said each player has plenty of distance to be able to navigate tricky West Region courses. But it's their ability to handle adversity that may be their best club in the bag.
"They've been varsity players now for a number years, they know how to struggle and fight for their score," Johs said. "A big thing we talk about and work on is preventing one bad hole from becoming two bad holes or three bad holes.
"The mental aspect of the game is so challenging in golf."
Johs said there's still plenty of competition out there.
West Region tournament champion Century returns eighth-grade phenoms Leah and Hannah Herbal. Leah topped the charts in scoring average as a seventh-grader (79.56) and Hannah won the West Region tournament.
Maddie Braun and Riley Crothers, both top 20 players last season, also return for the Patriots.
St. Mary's, last year's regular-season scoring leader, was hit hard by graduation, but brings back a pair of top 15 players in Gabby Easton (4th) and Abby Schmidt (15th).
Johs said his team has set the goal of a top three finish at the state tournament in early October in Jamestown, but there's a lot of work to do between now and then.
"How we play (Friday) doesn't matter as much as how we play later in the season, but every day is a chance to improve and work on things and that's the approach we're taking," Johs said. "We've been building toward this year and we're looking forward to seeing how things play out."