By Ray Hamill — The H-DNL returns to competitive sports this week for the first time since last March, with girls golf getting things started in Del Norte on Thursday.
Golf is one of the few sports allowed under the purple COVID tier and is one of three in the H-DNL that will return to action in the coming days, with boys tennis beginning its season on Saturday and cross country getting started next Wednesday.
And for the H-DNL golfers, the return can’t come soon enough.
“Everybody’s so excited to be out there,” said Eureka head coach Karen Griffith, whose team has had a couple of practices in preparation for the season opener. “It’s been wonderful for them and wonderful for the coaches. They just have a great attitude all the way around and they’re just a fun group to be around.”
Thursday’s event will be the first of five in what will be a shortened season, with the Arcata Tigers the defending champions and looking like the team to beat again this year.
The Tigers no longer have league champion Avary Henry, who is playing this year at Aurora University in Illinois, but they return several key golfers, including a senior trio of Kate Plumley, Brooke Bisgrove and Mari Pepper, each of whom placed in the top-12 in the final league standings a year ago.
Head coach Troy Ghisetti also has a couple of talented sophomores — Iris Coonrod and Kyra Alway — whom he expects to have big seasons as well.
“Those five are going to be very good,” Ghisetti said.
Individually, McKinleyville’s Isabella Sundberg will begin the season as the league favorite on a Panthers team that is expected to continue its good run of recent years.
“There’s a good chance she’ll be No. 1,” Ghisetti said of Sundberg. “(McKinleyville) are going to be competitive. Those girls have been playing and they’re improving.”
Fortuna and Eureka also return some of last season’s top performers.
For the Loggers, senior Marissa Highley is back after earning all-league honors last year and is expected to lead the way on her team, along with a pair of talented sophomores, Ileah Brannon and Gracie Christian.
Brannon has plenty of experience despite her young age after competing in the middle school league before joining the Loggers, while Christian made some big strides in her first prep season.
“She’s really been hitting the ball well and we’re excited to see her back,” Griffith said of Christian, one of 12 golfers on the Eureka team.
The Huskies unfortunately will not be able to compete in Thursday’s season opener because the school has been forced to temporarily switch to distance learning for this week, but they will be back on Monday when they host the second league event of the season at the Redwood Golf and Country Club.
And at least two Fortuna golfers are expected to challenge at the top in league play, with senior Gracie Betts and junior Leah Nelson both earning all-league honors last season.
In addition, head coach Scott Betts has senior Caitlyn North back for a fourth year on the team, along with newcomers Kendall Stewart and Lorelei Martinez, who are among a growing group of student athletes willing to try a new sport just to get back out competing in something.
“They’re super excited,” Scott Betts said of his golfers. “They were pretty bummed when I told them we couldn’t go to Del Norte, but we’ll be right back in the hunt on Monday.”