Payton Burns watches his chip shot fly down the fairway during the Rotary Pribyl Golf Tournament on Thursday, August 4, 2022 at Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Think of it as a barometer for the year ahead.

The Rotary Pribyl Junior Golf Classic serves as a good gauge for the Cedar Rapids Prairie varsity boys’ golf season. The Hawks swept the Open and Novice divisions, including placing two of the top three, another in seventh and five in the top 20.

“The way we’ve been playing…it gives us a lot of momentum for the season,” said Payton Burns, a Prairie senior who won the Pribyl Open Division. “I think we played pretty well and worked hard. A lot of guys have been playing tournaments all summer.

Prairie is in the midst of an unprecedented run for the program, reaching the Class 4A state tournament in the past two seasons. The Hawks bring everyone back from last year’s team and begin their journey for a third straight finish in the state as competition begins with the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet Thursday at Hunters Ridge Golf Course.

The goal is to continue the steady rise in success of the past two seasons.

“It’s business as usual,” Prairies coach Erik Columbus said. “We got used to playing well. We want to continue that this year.

“We seek to be connected.”

The Hawks have made three in-state appearances since their first trip in 2017. Prairie could still be more associated with wrestling, baseball or football. Maybe even track and field or cross-country. Slowly, the boys’ golf is getting closer to the front of the line.

“I’d like to think so,” Burns said. “We are doing a very good job. We have a bright future ahead of us. »

Columbus laughed at the idea of ​​Prairie becoming a golf school.

“We hope so,” said Columbus, who referenced the school’s wrestling tradition. “Recently we’ve had success.”

Tanner Wachtl and Burns are back as top two scorers. Ashton Carmer is expected to step in as the Hawks’ No. 3 player. Prairie will be looking to improve on last year’s 18-hole average of 313.70 and combined adjusted average of 156.18.

Wachtl, Burns and Carmer were part of the all-MVC Mississippi first team and helped the Hawks finish second in the Super Meet last season. Wachtl and Burns both average under 77 per round. Their games complement each other.

“We’re definitely pushing ourselves to do better,” Burns said. “It’s a competition. We encourage each other to do well, but we also want to beat each other. It’s friendly. It’s funny. It pushes us to be better. »

The Hawks have depth with veterans and young talent who will compete for starting spots. The balance helps ease the pressure of pulling low with every turn.

“That’s not where you just rely on your four scores and you have to shoot well today,” Carmer said. “If it’s not your day and one of your teammates is there to help you, it makes things a lot easier and less stressful. It’s better to play when you’re not stressed all the time.

Chemistry is now part of the formula. The Hawks are a tight-knit group. They often spend time together on and off the course, driving range and greens. They eat together regularly, having their meals at Pancheros and Subway after the qualifying rounds this week. Carmer’s vote is for Culver after the Super Meet.

The Hawks also had a day at the beach on the first day of practice. They all returned to their home course – Airport National Golf Course – to work on their games after a round of Pribyl.

“It makes things a lot easier,” Carmer said. “It’s just fun. You can be there with your friends. It’s not like you’re just sitting there practicing or standing there. You talk to your friends and you have a good time.

Prairie is coming off its best state result, placing seventh last season. The Hawks were 10th in 2017 and 12th in 2020. They weren’t just on the field anymore. They are looking for team material with the state tournament scheduled for Elmcrest Country Club in October.

“We’re hoping to do a little bit better than the season ended last year,” Burns said. “We have more experience with our guys. It was their first time in the state last year.

“We have to focus on a good season here to start. I think we are looking forward to the season. We are very excited.

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