Outdoor fall sports in Wyoming are always at the mercy of Mother Nature, which is why seasons like golf and tennis are so short.
Both sports at Thunder Basin and Campbell County high schools began practice Monday, with the golf teams only getting three days of preparation before the first tournament of the season.
The Bolts and Camels hit the course for the first time Thursday, which is a stark contrast to the football teams, which get three full weeks of practice before their first games.
TBHS golf coach Kameron Hunter said that makes it vitally important for players to be on the course over the summer.
“My biggest thing that I always tell kids is, ‘You have to just play. Get out and play,’” Hunter said. “Our season is so quick, six weeks. Even changing something in six weeks is tough.”
When the Bolts started practice Monday, there was no time to lose. They jumped right into 18-hole qualifying rounds during the first two days to give Hunter a chance to set the varsity lineup.
Then the TBHS golfers only had one day of practice on the range to fine-tune a few things before Thursday’s tournament at Bell Nob Golf Course.
“There’s not much we can change or fix in three days and get you mentally prepared,” Hunter said. “If you have big changes that need to happen in a short period of time, it’s going to be tough. It’s a quick turnaround.”
Colter Praus, a senior for the Bolts, said that there were only about 10 days over the summer that he wasn’t out on the course playing.
When practice started, he said it felt rushed to get ready for the first competition. He felt comfortable with some of the go-to shots he worked on over the summer, but it was still a challenge to get fully prepared for Thursday’s home tournament.
“It’s kind of a struggle having a tournament right away, because you don’t get to work on anything,” Praus said.
Saturday’s first serve
Gillette’s two high school tennis teams had two extra practice days to prepare for their first dual of the season Saturday. But even that makes for a rushed opening week.
Like golf, players need to put in time over the summer to be ready for the quick turnaround, said CCHS coach Mark Miessler.
“If they’re not playing during the summer, they’re going to have a real rough time,” Miessler said. “We have to concentrate a lot more on match play specifics and for the new players, just some fundamentals of what to expect during the matches.”
Miessler has always encouraged his players to be multi-sport athletes, and he said he understands when other sports take up time over the summer. Inevitably, there is an adjustment period for those players during the first week.
Senior Tanner Lemm is one of those multi-sport Camels, playing singles tennis and basketball at CCHS. He said he doesn’t get truly comfortable with his shots until about midway through the tennis season, which concludes as the weather is turning cold at the end of September.
Last season, the state tournament in Gillette needed to be moved indoors to the Campbell County Recreation Center Field House because of bad weather. As a result of fewer courts, matches were played until past midnight.
“It’s kind of frustrating in Wyoming. You either have really hot days or you have really windy and cold days,” Lemm said. “It’s a little tough, but I don’t let it bother me too much.”
Because of the short season, Miessler said the Wyoming High School Activities Association moved the start date about three years ago to the same day as football and golf. That helped, but this year he was able to run even more practices than usual during the opening week.
Miessler said he usually has school meetings during the first week of practice, but this year he doesn’t and has taken advantage with a full week of two-a-day practices.
Miessler has several experienced players on the team this year, which makes the quick turnaround a little easier to deal with. But he does have to stay patient when bringing along an inexperienced player.
“When you’re a brand new player and you haven’t hit all summer and you’re a freshman coming up, your learning curve is pretty big,” he said. “If you’re a pretty good athlete, you’ll pick it up pretty quick. It just depends on how much time you want to put in.”
Fortunately, CCHS and TBHS start the season with a nonconference match Saturday when both host Torrington High School. Miessler said that helps not to jump straight into matches that have postseason implications.
The Camels are set to face Torrington at 10 a.m. Saturday before the Bolts take their turn against the Blazers at 1 p.m.