Over the last several seasons, the Three Rivers Conference has earned a reputation as one of the premier prep boys' golf leagues.
With six-time reigning TRAC champion Riverdale coming off a Class 1A state championship and a second-place finish the last two years, the conference raised its profile even higher last fall.
Including the Rams, fellow Three Rivers teams Rockridge, Sherrard and Sterling Newman booked passage to the 1A state meet at Bloomington's Prairie Vista Golf Course. A fifth league member, Fulton, missed qualifying by nine strokes.
"I feel like the last few years, the conference has grown a lot, as far as how competitive we are," said Riverdale coach Trent Groves. "It'll be big for us this year not to take our competition for granted. We've always believed that, but it's really true this year."
In addition to their six straight TRAC titles, the Rams have won regional championships the last five years and are coming off back-to-back sectional crowns, to say nothing of the state showings.
Like last year, when 2017 individual state champion Tyler Bussert graduated, Riverdale has to replace another top-caliber performer in Anthony Ruthey, a state runner-up two years ago and a fifth-place finisher in '18.
"Every successful team in any sport has had players leave and move on," said Groves. "For a program to remain successful, you have to have that next-man-up mentality. We've got kids who have played JV for us who are solid players, and who are ready to take that next step.
"I've talked about it with my assistant, Jason Dennhardt, about how success breeds more success. We've got young kids who have gotten big-time experience down at state, and they can carry that with them and move forward."
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Along with Riverdale, which finished six shots behind Effingham St. Anthony last fall in Bloomington, area rivals Sherrard and Rockridge finished seventh and eighth, respectively, separated by just five strokes. The Tigers finished one spot behind Newman.
Losing just one of its players in graduated standout Ethan Earl, Sherrard feels it has the firepower to give the Rams a run for their money at this year's conference meet, set for Oct. 1 at Deer Valley Country Club in Deer Grove.
"When we went to state, we told them one day to stop and look around and take it all in," said Sherrard coach Brett Williams. "I asked them (recently) if they wanted to go back to state, and there was no hesitation, they all answered, 'We are going back.'
"These kids are already wanting to secure hotel rooms for state, so I know they're ready."
Coming off a season in which they captured regional and sectional team titles, the Rockridge Rockets have seen first-hand the benefits of going up against top-flight competition day in and day out.
"Anytime, regardless of the sport, you play great competition and get held to a higher standard, you'll sharpen your skills a lot," said Rockridge coach Andy Saey. "In that regard, I thought it was a good tune-up. As we continued to improve and get better, we realized we had something going on here."
However, the graduated trio of Jake Brokaw, Jake Hilkin and Grant Otting leaves a hole in the Rocket lineup. Filling that gap is the No. 1 priority right now.
"We're really young. We don't have that consistent senior leadership. We lost three really important seniors who did a good job of setting the tone in practice," he said. "Right now, our mindset is not trying to be better (than last year), it's about finding an identity."