City may lose its sectional stranglehold
Vincennes has had its way when it comes to girls golf.
Rivet captured sectionals in the first seven years it had a team. Lincoln stopped the streak a year ago, capturing its first sectional title by using a fifth-player tiebreaker to edge the Patriots.
The Vincennes schools are going to be pushed to carry the city streak to nine. All four county schools have questions in their lineups, but with a sectional that doesn't have a clear-cut favorite, the title may not leave the area.
Rivet has the most accomplished returning golfer, junior Lily Waggoner, while South Knox has the best newcomer, freshman Trinity Dubbs. Lincoln and North Knox both have new coaches, Chaz Hendrix and Carrie Loheider.
The Patriots opened their season Monday in the Bloomington South Invitational and are at Washington today. The Warriors debut today with a home match with Sullivan and White River Valley. The Alices and Spartans open Saturday at the Washington Invitational.
At first look, the Patriots appear to be trending downward. Not only was their sectional streak snapped, they lost star golfer Grace Waggoner to graduation. Waggoner was a three-time sectional medalist and a two-time state finalist.
But younger sister Lily Waggoner is capable of filling Grace's leadership role. The team's third through fifth golfers off last year's team, sophomore Maddi Halter, and juniors Emma Robinson and Victoria Linn return. Sophomore Alicia McGuire and freshman Cadence Mills fill out the team.
So the team is in an enviable spot of having experience without a senior. Lily Waggoner was one stroke away from advancing to state last year and was a match medalist twice last year with a low score of 36. Coach Charlie Waggoner said that Halter, who has taken lessons over the summer, Robinson and Linn can all shoot rounds in the 40s.
"It's a group that enjoys golf, and they want to get better. That's nice to see," coach Waggoner said. "They know our tradition in golf, and we think we can win the sectional again. That's going to be our focus. Golf is a short season, but we feel with our (tough) schedule it'll help our kids prepare for tournament time."
A cause of concern is the health of Lily Waggoner, who was sidelined a month this summer with a sore back that is still bothering her. Coach Waggoner said that the team needs to sharpen their play to reach their potential.
"All six can hit the golf ball, and I think in time Alicia and Cadence can contribute to our score," coach Waggoner said. "But how do we score? It's by working on those 30-40 yards shots and putting. That's going to be a big thing with our team, working on that short game."
Not only do the Alices have a new look with Hendrix as the coach, but the lineup is completely different from a year ago, when it boasted of five seniors.
Like Rivet, the Alices have no seniors. Juniors are Kaylan Finatri, Bailey Robb and Reece Johnson, and the sophomores are Gwen Hayes, Krislyn Shepard, Savanna Purdom and Grace Kotter.
It's a clear pecking order with Hayes, Shepard, Finatri and Purdom having been on last year's sectional championship team, with the other three being first-time golfers.
"Hayes is probably our No. 1 and she has the most experience. But I could see her, Shepard and Finatri playing at No. 1. They're going to be our top three scorers, shooting between 48 to 55. Purdom right now I would expect to be around mid to high 50s."
Of the newcomers, Johnson has stood out.
"She hits it a ton and definitely has the most power. But we haven't worked a lot on her chipping and putting," Hendrix said. "The big thing with this team is going to be improvement on the short game. Our top three, especially, all hit it pretty far. But getting near or on the green is just half the battle.
"If we can get our top three to shoot in the low to mid 40s, with each girl setting a personal best once in a while, that could go a long way," he said.
Hendrix noted that he wanted his players to work on the mental part of the game.
"The main thing about high school golf is pace to play. I want our girls to be ready when it's their turn and to have already thought about what they want to do with their next shot," he said. "It's important for them to be thinking their way around the course."
The Spartans had the worst finish among the county teams at last year's sectional, taking eighth in the 10-team field with a 450. But South Knox is easily in the best position in terms of experience, as the four scorers from that round are back to go with top newcomer Dubbs.
"We've missed reaching the regional twice by one shot. It's our goal this year to be the first South Knox team to reach the regional," said Spartans coach Mark Gray, pointing to a top-three sectional finish needed for advancement. "A lot of teams seem like they have a couple of good players but that's it. It could be wide open."
Dubbs' arrival has fueled the optimism. Gray called her the school's best freshman since their first player, Kara Waggoner, started the team in 2005.
"Trinity does everything you need to do to be a good golfer. She works hard at it," Gray said. "Trinity hits it well. If she cleans up her short game, I see her shooting in the high 30s, low 40s."
Senior Hailee Cooper and sophomore Salena Dellinger were just above 100 at last year's sectional, and Gray expected both to get in the 40s for nine.
"Hailee hits it well. She's a good team leader, good with the young kids. She was kind of that for us last year," Gray said. " Salena's improved a lot. We played it down for our qualifying round, something that wouldn't be done much in the season, and shot a 51."
Sophomore Brooklyn Willis and junior Lauren Haveman were the team's third and fourth scorer last year and are the main candidates for the fourth spot this year.
"Brooklyn ended last year playing well. We need to get her to that point," Gray said. "Lauren's strength is 30 yards and in. Now we need to get her full swing going."
Senior Andrea Williams and freshman Bethany Williams complete the team. Gray noted that both showed promise.
The Warriors are in a better place than they were a year ago at this time, when they didn't have enough players to post a team score. They eventually got up to five players and had a respectable sixth-place sectional finish.
The team has to replace graduate Katie Kixmiller, who was a regional qualifier a year ago. Senior Tori French fills in as the No. 1 golfer this season. She, along with Lily Waggoner, are the only county returning golfers who broke 100 at last year's sectional.
Junior Sarah Richardson and sophomore Hope Leydet, who joined the team after the season started last year, are getting bigger roles on this year's team. Sophomore Emma Miller, and freshmen Milee Lane and Isabella May fill out the roster. Both Lane and May played from sixth to eighth grade on the middle school team.
"We definitely have some talent and a lot of potential. I'm definitely hopeful about the season," Loheider said. "I know Tori has set some big goals that she thinks she can accomplish. She wants to qualify for the regional and get in the 30s for a nine-hole match. She has a beautiful swing."
Loheider noted that Lane might be a breakthrough player on the team, but wanted to be patient.
"It's going to be an adjustment to high school golf for both Milee and Isabella. It's going to be different than what they're used to, and I hope physically and mentally they can do it."
The team is assured to get plenty of experience with 18 matches scheduled, 12 of them coming in a 22-day stretch in August.