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Bull Dogs consider event ‘stepping-stone’

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The harsh reality in the aftermath of Columbus North’s boys golf state title is that it loses all five regulars to graduation.

That leaves a lot of holes for coach Doug Bieker to fill for next season, when the Bull Dogs will try to defend their Conference Indiana, sectional, regional and state championships.

“It should be an interesting year next year,” Bieker said. “It should be fun to see which guys work hard. Who knows, that kid that was No. 16 on the team for us this year may take it upon himself to work his tail off and could play his way into varsity for us. It will be a fun year, and I’m interested to see who works the hardest.”

Two of the likely replacements and potential team leaders for next year’s squad are playing in this week’s AGJA Jeff Overton Classic hosted by Otter Creek. Connor Opalka, who will be a senior, and Spencer Fairbanks, who will be a sophomore, went back and forth as North’s No. 7 and 8 golfers this spring.

“They have big shoes to fill, and they knew that before we won state,” Bieker said. “I think they’ll be ready for the challenge.”

Sixth-man Kyung Kim, who will be a senior, also figures to be one of the Bull Dogs’ leaders next spring.

“I think me, Connor and Kyung will be top three probably next year, and we’re just going to need a 4 and 5 guy that can keep it steady,” Fairbanks said. “I think we can go pretty far next year.”

Opalka and Fairbanks weren’t at the top of their games Tuesday morning in the opening round of the tournament. Opalka carded an 86, and Fairbanks had a 92. They’ll have to make a big improvement today to qualify for Thursday’s final round.

“Obviously, this is a good experience for them, and it’s a learning process,” Bieker said. “I think it’s good for them to play side by side with some of the best golfers in the nation to see other kids play the same golf course that they’re playing and see where they stack up.

Bieker said things that his golfers need to work on will become more apparent this week.

“Spencer needs to get longer off the tee, but his body is still changing,” Bieker said. “He’s still growing. Connor obviously hits it plenty far, but not as straight as he needs to hit it.”

“It’s a process, and they’re going to learn how to play well,” he said. “I think this is just a stepping-stone toward that. I think they’ll understand better after this week what they have to work on, and I think they’ll be fine next year for us.”

Both Opalka and Fairbanks will be playing in more tournaments this summer. Opalka plans to play in a two-day event in Wabash and a couple of Hoosier Tour events. Fairbanks likely will play in the city tournament and is an alternate for the PGA Junior Championship.

The pair hope to improve enough to approach the level of golf that this year’s seniors enjoyed.

“We have some big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” Opalka said. “All the guys that graduated this year were great role models and obviously great golfers. They’re all going to play at (college) next year. We have a little work to do, but I think we can do it.”

If they can, North might end up back in the state tournament.

“I think we can make a run at the state finals again, but it will be pretty tough,” Fairbanks said.

“I think we’re capable,” Opalka said. “We have a lot of work to do, a lot of practice to be had. But I think we have some guys coming in and some younger guys that are capable of shooting good scores as long as they work at it. We have to put the time and effort in.”

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