SEELEY LAKE — Manhattan Christian's Caidin Hill showed no sign that he's ready to relinquish his "state champion" moniker.
Hill, the winner of last year's individual title, shot a 2-over par 74 on a Tuesday when the back-9 greens on the Double Arrow Golf Course were playing extremely tough, according to several competitors at the two-day State C golf tournament. The back-9 had actually just opened to the public Monday.
Even Manhattan Christian's sophomore phenom said the greens were trying, but he still sat at even par heading into his last two holes of the day.
"I just shot irons off the tee, I was getting in the fairway and would hit my irons into the green and just two-putt for par," Hill said. "Not making mistakes kept me in a good position all day."
Hill's 74 was the only score that cracked the 70s, and he holds a commanding nine-stroke lead over Kale Peterson of Westby-Grenora and Nathan Browne of Lone Peak.
Hill's solid score also paced his Manhattan Christian squad, which is likewise trying to claim the Class C team title for the second year in a row. The Eagles currently sit in first with a team score of 253. Westby-Grenora and Gardiner each sit 14 strokes behind.
The Manhattan Christian girls also have a 14-stroke lead as they try for their unprecedented third straight state title. The Eagles lead the field with a team score of 308. That's 14 strokes better than Chinook.
No Class C girls team has won three state golf titles in a row since the classification started holding its own tournament in 2000.
Manhattan Christian's Jillian Frye has a bit of work to do if she's going to defend her state title, though. The senior currently sits in second place after shooting a 90. She trails leader Landri Paladichuk of Ennis by two strokes.
"I just gotta lock in. Every shot counts and you just gotta know that," said Frye, who edged Paladichuk by five strokes for the state title a season ago. "You can't let what everyone else is doing affect you. You just gotta play shot to shot and play your own game."
That might be easier said than done. Frye and Paladichuk, who were grouped together on Tuesday, will again be in the lead girls' group on championship-deciding Wednesday. The round opens at 10 a.m. with the lead group starting around noon.
Fortunately for the two golfers, who will be in that afternoon quartet, they're both great friends.
"We're really close," said Paladichik, a sophomore. "We both had a lot of good shots. It was fun to play with her and compete against her. We're really good friends, but we love to compete against each other."
The Darby golf team's relatively short car ride to the Double Arrow Golf Course was one part business trip and it was one part family road trip.
Complete with a healthy dose of sibling rivalry.
While Tiger golf coach Mark Snavely didn't, to anyone's knowledge, have to pull the car over, he did have a pair of brothers jockeying for position on the all-state leaderboard after the first round of the tourney in Seeley Lake.
Since younger brother Ryder Conner has entered the high school ranks as a freshman this season with his older brother Ryley, a sophomore, the two pretty much have gone back and forth all season.
"That's a big time rivalry there. At any point when they start talking about who the better golfer is, it's, 'I am!' 'No, I am!' It's like that every time they go out and play," coach Snavely said Tuesday. "Every time the two of them tee it up together, you know it's going to be a good."
On Tuesday, big brother won the battle as Ryley shot an 85 to sit in a three-way tie at sixth. He also had one of the best putts of the day, a 40-footer on the eighth hole's green that saved a bogey after he landed in the large water hazard off the tee box.
That gave Ryley some bragging rights — for one day, anyway — when the team heads back to their bed and breakfast on the lake, where a black bear woke up the boys the night before.
"When he comes back and wins, it always falls on me. 'How's it feel? Your little brother beat you for the day," Ryley said with a chuckle. "It sucks when he beats me, but at the same time, he's my brother, and he's a team member as well."
Ryder stayed on his brother's heels with an 88, though. That puts him in a tie for 14th place and keeps him in the Top 15 all-state hunt.
"I went birdie, par, birdie on the first three holes but then I feel apart," Ryder said. "I Just gotta try to get off the tee (tomorrow) unlike the last couple holes. Just gotta hope to go low and shoot in the 70s."
Coach Snavely hopes both boys, who are only a year and a half apart in age, can indeed shoot better on Day 2 as they were both actually a few strokes above their season averages.
And win or lose between the two, the better they do, the better the Tigers — who sit in ninth, but still have an outside shot at placing as a team — will do.
"You couldn't ask for anything better. They're always trying to out-do each other and it makes each one of them a better golfer," Snavley said. "I think they can be state champs (someday)."