‘We got this’: Sandpoint girls eye first state title, boys eager to prove themselves

by Dylan Greene
Sports Editor | March 13, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Golf is the one sport where you can take a break from it for several months, set all your focus on something else and then come back and pick it right back up without missing a beat.

If you couldn’t tell, that’s sarcasm. In reality, golf is the exact opposite of that and is the sport that requires the most repetition. Without it, well it can be frustrating.

So naturally, the Sandpoint golf team does whatever they can throughout the summer, fall and winter to keep their games from dropping off. Unfortunately, just like every spring sport at the high school, the Bulldogs are at disadvantage compared to relatively every other team in the state.

And when it comes to golf, schools down south and district rivals Lakeland and Moscow are already on the course getting valuable practice time while Sandpoint is stuck between concrete walls hitting golf balls into a net thanks to the climate in North Idaho.

The first time the team stepped foot on a course this season was Tuesday when they competed in their first event of the year against Moscow, Lewiston and Clarkston at the Quail Ridge Golf Course in Clarkston.

But senior Joel Johnson said the Bulldogs are determined to overcome those challenges and use it as motivation.

“We’re kind of playing with a chip on our shoulders,” he said, “and Lakeland and Moscow kind of mock us, and we’re ready to come out firing this year.”

The boys finished third at districts last year 36 strokes behind first place Lakeland while the girls claimed the regional crown for the first time since 2016 to secure a spot at state. The Sandpoint girls went on to capture a third place finish at state and Hattie Larson took ninth as an individual.

Despite bringing home a trophy last season, junior CeCe Deprez said the team didn’t play their best at state and she believes the team has a good chance to win their first ever state title this season or next.

“We got this, knock on wood,” she said.

The fearsome five

When CeCe was in fourth or fifth grade, CeCe’s dad and current Sandpoint head coach Michael Deprez “drafted” four other girls his daughter’s age and taught them the game of golf. Those four girls were Hattie Larson, Camille Neuder, Karsen Granier and Annaby Kanning, who are all juniors now. Michael picked these four because they were and still are close friends with his daughter.

“That made it more fun for CeCe,” he said. “They’ve been able to bond and grow at the same pace.”

And that idea has blossomed into one of the strongest girls golf team’s Sandpoint has ever seen. As sophomores, the group was able to show the entire state what they are capable of. Michael said after the first day of last year’s state tournament when the Bulldogs sat in second, the girls realized where they stood amongst the rest of the competition and what they are capable of.

Now Sandpoint is confident they can compete with anybody, but Larson doesn’t want them to get overconfident and keep looking back at last season.

“I take last year’s state as a learning opportunity because it was our first time playing together as a team at state,” she said.

Larson is no stranger to making it to state. In fact, she will be shooting for the state triple crown this spring. Larson started at goalkeeper for the girls soccer team that won the state title this fall and played a major role on the girls basketball team that lost in the third place game at state last month.

Given that Larson’s schedule is filled up during the fall and winter, she doesn’t have much time to spend on golf so its takes her a while to get back into a rhythm on the course.

“I can feel my swing — even hitting into a net — is different,” she said, “and it’s not the same and my body is like you’ve done this before, you know how to do it but your not quite doing it up to its potential, and it takes I would say about two to three weeks of working outside.”

Larson plans on placing at state as an individual again this season but is more focused on the team and encouraging her teammates to get better as the year progresses.

“As long as we strive to play for each other and play how we know how to play, we’ll be fine,” she said.

A surprise on the girls team last season was Aly Lish, who moved to Sandpoint from Boise as a junior. Lish didn’t play much golf her freshman or sophomore season in Boise, but she joined the Bulldogs and improved quickly. By the end of last season, Lish edged out Granier for the team’s fifth spot on the state team.

Michael is expecting big things from Lish and the rest of the team this season. He said he wants the girls to be more calculated in their approach on the golf course this year and think through every shot like the pros do so they will feel more confident when they step over the ball.

“On all 18 holes, we want them to know what they want to do off of the tee, how far they want to hit it and whether they want to be on the right side, left side or center of the fairway,” he said.

During the offseason, the girls took part in the Inland Empire PGA Juniors Pro-Am in Spokane and a handful of other tournaments throughout the summer and fall to make sure they didn’t get rusty and Michael believes that dedication will pay dividends this season.

“Last year was a 20 to one shot that the girls were going to win state ... now it’s not quite so much of a reach,” he said.

CeCe was one stroke away from placing at state last season and enters play this year with high hopes. She said the team is more focused this year and ready to repeat as regional champions.

CeCe is glad the golf season is back and is eager to ride the bus to matches with her friends.

“It’s fun playing a sport with all your best friends,” she said. “We’re so close, we hang out all the time.”

Bouncing back

The boys team is determined to put last season behind them and the Bulldogs are going to give Lakeland and Moscow everything they have in the battle for the district crown.

Johnson feels like the extra time he and the rest of the team put in during the offseason will help them close the gap to their regional foes.

“We have a lot of room for improvement from last year,” he said.

For the second straight season in 2019, Johnson came in fourth place as an individual at districts. Coming up just short is motivating Johnson this season and making him push himself even harder.

During the winter, Johnson stayed sharp by practicing on a golf simulator and staying up late putting on a putting green in his room.

Johnson said he has improved his ball striking which he hopes will help him and the team get to state.

Michael said Johnson has an excellent feel for the game and has dialed in all the fundamentals, he just wants him to be more consistent with his setup.

Michael is “cautiously optimistic” about the boys chances of topping Lakeland and Moscow but won’t know where they stack up until he sees what they have. Regardless, Michael is proud of the improvement he has seen from the boys on the team, especially the three seniors who appear to have a sense of urgency.

“They’ve done everything that I’ve asked them to do,” he said.

One of those seniors is Jaden Dumars, who started playing golf his freshman season. He began last season shooting in the low 100’s and is now hoping to get into the mid 80’s.

In order to turn things around, Dumars said the team needs to come together and be more mentally tough.

Dumars is looking forward to continuing to progress this season and wants to take on a leadership role in his final few months on the team.

“I’m just going to bring the energy and the maturity that the team needs,” he said. “There’s definitely some younger kids on the team and they can get down about golf and you just got to find the silver lining in it and just have fun.”

Johnson has enjoyed his time on the Sandpoint golf team and wants it to end on a high note.

“It has been one of the most impactful things in my life,” he said.

The team will compete in the Lewiston Invitational on Monday.