DAKOTA DUNES | Dakota Valley won’t exactly have home course advantage, but it will be as close as it gets when the South Dakota Class A boys state golf tournament unfolds Monday and Tuesday.

Dakota Dunes Country Club, voted one of the country’s top private courses by Golf Digest, plays host to the state’s top prep golfers. The 16-team field includes Dakota Valley, which plays its home matches at Two Rivers across Interstate 29 from the Dunes.

However, the Panthers will have had time to get a few practice rounds in before competition begins Monday.

Dakota Valley won a regional team title at The Bluffs in Vermillion last week to reach the state meet. Elk Point-Jefferson also qualified thanks to a third-place finish.

“By looking at our averages you can tell we are a very balanced squad,” Dakota Valley Coach Rodd Slater said. “Any of the five players can post the team’s low score. They are a fun, loose and competitive group who enjoy playing together.”

Senior Tanner Hensley has the Panthers’ lowest nine-hole scoring average of 39.25, while the other four average between 40.06 and 40.73. Hensley was the team’s most valuable player last season and posted the lowest score for a Dakota Valley player in the state meet, finishing 29th.

Jack Furlong, another senior, is another player returning from last year’s state tournament team and boasts a 40.06 stroke average.

“Tanner is incredibly long off the tee and has soft hands around the green,” Slater said. “Jack is a great ball striker and has lots of playing experience.”

Senior Jameson Bull returned to the team this year after missing all of last season because of an injury. The injury kept him from playing until July but Bull (40.82 average) is regaining his form, according to his coach. Bull was regional medalist as a sophomore with a 73 and had the low score this season at the Dakota XII Conference meet, also a 73.

Sophomore Keaton Hensley – Tanner’s younger brother – played on last year’s state qualifying squad as a freshman and averages 40.50 per nine holes this season.

“Keaton is quietly one of the team leaders, his competitiveness and passion in the off season has improved players throughout the team,” Slater said. “He and Tanner are very close and push each other to be better players. A former teacher described the Hensley brothers as two of the most competitive students he had ever coached or taught.”

Freshman Paul Bruns, the newcomer to this year’s team, was regional runner-up with an 80 and checks in with a 40.73 average.

“Paul is the team ‘grinder.’ He probably played and practiced the most of the top five this summer and it is paying off with consistently lower scores in each meet,” Slater said. “He hits it solid and has a very good short game.”

Dakota Valley not only won the Region 2 championship, but also the Dakota XII Conference meet as well as three others this season.

Elk Point-Jefferson has three players returning with state tournament experience in Tyler Leif, Easton Keuck and Hunter Goehring. Leif was sixth in the regional meet with an 84 and Keuck eighth with 87. Caden Stabe and Preston Kollbaum are the other two Huskies qualifiers.

Tea Area is the defending Class A team champion, but just 10 strokes separated the top five in last year’s state meet in Rapid City.

Four of the top 10 individuals return, including defending champion Jacob Lee of Parkston, who edged Nick Lust of St. Thomas More by one stroke last year. Lust is also part of this week’s field.

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