The Washington boys golf team is looking to get back on top.

The Panthers will try for their fourth Mid-Illini Conference championship in five years.

The Washington boys golf team is looking to get back on top.

The Panthers will try for their fourth Mid-Illini Conference championship in five years.

Pekin snapped Washington’s three-year title streak last season as the Panthers finished in the runner-up slot.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” said 22-year head coach Dwight Hershberger. “It could be a fun time — good head-to-head competition.”

Eight-deep at the varsity level, Pekin lines up as the favorite.

In addition to his team, Hershberger listed Morton and Dunlap, who were third and fourth a year ago, respectively, as other M-I contenders.

The boys face Dunlap (Thursday), Pekin (Aug. 31) and Morton (Sept. 6) in three straight conference matches, so the outcomes of those will go a long ways in determining if their first-place aspirations are fulfilled.

Three-time first-team all-conference honoree Austin Worner, who had a 74.0 league tournament average in that span, graduated.

But 2010 second-team all-league recipients Tyler Johnson, a junior,  and Zac Cronkhite, a senior, return.

Another senior, Cory Cooper, also figures to be a mainstay.

Matt Fletcher, Hank Stolz and Talon Supak are among the other juniors in the mix early.

Hershberger said Supak has a “great game” that could give him a chance to be the team’s top golfer.

Kody Dexheimer is a senior who was put in the line-up for an early-season tournament.

Junior Austin Wileman likely will work his way into the line-up at some point.

Senior Zach Little, formerly a key football contributor who will play baseball at the next level, is capable of helping the varsity by the middle of the year, Hershberger said.

Matt Johnson is a freshman who is going to be a good player. Classmate Drew Pershing exhibits a nice swing.

“I know the kids have game,” Hershberger said. “I try to find out where they play best.”

The rest of the roster includes: senior David Maxheimer, juniors Zach Koonce and Ben Rogers, sophomores Jack Berlett, Connor Davis and Brody Hibbard and freshmen Will Kacynski and Riley Wagner.

Washington makes regular trips to the Golf Learning Center & Academy across from Kellogg Golf Course.

The players concentrate on short-range work in an effort to save key strokes around the green.

The Panthers began their season Aug. 15 in Pekin in an 18-hole quadrangular that serves as sort of a final tryout. The top-five scores were used from among eight players.

Cooper led the squad at Lick Creek Golf Course, which had especially slick greens that day, with an eight-over-par 80.

Supak, Cronkhite and Dexheimer carded 82s and Johnson chipped in an 88.

A 414 left Washington 14 strokes behind the Dragons, but it defeated Waterloo and Bloomington by double digits.

Limestone is the host of this year’s Mid-Illini tournament, which will be at Newman Golf Course. Metamora is now playing at Metamora Fields Golf Club, which the Panthers will play in competition next fall.

The Washington schedule is the same except for the addition of a non-conference match Sept. 15 vs. Normal West.

Mid-Illini action was scheduled to begin Tuesday with four duals, including East Peoria-at-Washington.