As usual, the first varsity sport to begin the new high school sports year is girls golf, and the fall 2013 edition features some strong returning teams, and low numbers of players for several schools.
Among the area teams expected to challenge for honors this year are both Union County (defending Tri-Eastern Conference champion) and Hagerstown (defending Richmond sectional champion).
Winchester, Centerville and Lincoln are all back to chase conference honors, but all three, plus Union County, have fewer players than they might wish.
But play begins Monday, when Richmond hosts its girls golf invitational at the Highland Lake Golf Course. Union County hosts its own invite at the Liberty Country Club the next day.
Veteran Hagerstown coach Lloyd Michael is facing a much different early schedule to begin this season.
Among the players, only Kristen Kenworthy graduated from the sectional-winning squad, and Michael welcomes 11 players to compete for spots in his 11th year.
Top players returning are junior Jess Denhart (shot 73 in the sectional), sophomore Shelly Shafer and the team’s lone senior, Amanda Thackrey.
Junior Olivia Houck returns for Hagerstown, as does the junior duo of Michaela Bledsoe and Marissa Matanich, plus sophomores Shelby Rhoades and Cameo Smith.
The roster is completed by freshmen Regan McKee, Leah Turner and Kelsey Zetzl.
“We’ve had good success through the years, and have been able to win some conference and sectional titles, and go to regional play a number of times,” Michael said. “I think this year’s team can have another really good season.”
One significant change is the schedule. With Hagerstown schools starting the school year earlier, due to vocational classes affiliated with other school systems on a balanced school calendar, the team cannot play in the RHS Invitational on Monday.
Instead, the Tigers begin regular-season play Wednesday with a dual match at Elwood.
There are two big new Saturday invitational events in August, Michael reports.
The first is the Ben Davis Invitational on Aug. 17, then Hagerstown was one of 18 teams invited to play in the Hall of Fame Invitational, near South Bend, on Aug. 24.
“It’s a great thing (the HOF event invite) for the program, and quite an honor,” the Tiger coach said. “This is a key part of our upgraded schedule, which I hope will help us for the end of the season.”
Michael said that the team’s conference matches begin Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, with the dual match at the Liberty Country Club against Union County.
“I expect Union County to be a tough competitor for conference honors,” Michael said, “and I think Connersville will be a tough foe for everybody in the sectional.”
Longtime Union County coach Tony Gulley is back with a roster of just five girls, but talented and experienced players lead that group.
Topping the UC roster are seniors Maureen Miller and Breeanna McClure, both fourth-year varsity players. Miller was a state qualifier last spring, and is the likely replacement for the graduated Ryleigh Waltz, who will be returning from an injury this year in her first school year at Northern Kentucky University.
“Maureen and Breeanna are the base for what I think will be a very good team,” Gulley said by phone recently. “But I think all three of our other returning players will also be key contributors.”
The team’s sole returning junior is Hannah King, a third-year varsity starter. Sophomore Kayla Conrad has some varsity experience.
Gulley expects Hagerstown to be a contender for TEC honors, as could other teams. The Tigers topped a UC team in the sectional that had beaten Hagerstown in the regular-season dual match between the two schools, then won the 2012 conference tournament.
“I think this year’s team has very good possibilities, so I’m anxious to get the season started,” Gulley said.
There will be schedule changes for UC’s first week of play,
After the Richmond season opener Monday, the Pats’ home event has been moved up a day to Tuesday, teeing off at 9 a.m. The New Castle Invitational, which used to be on the day after Richmond’s tournament, is now the next Saturday.
Union County begins defense of its TEC crown Aug. 9, with a home triangular match versus Lincoln and Tri.
A longtime coach with a new challenge is Damon Anderson for Centerville’s Bulldogs.
Now in his 15th year coaching high school golf, Anderson is also working with just four girls, none of whom has any varsity experience.
This year’s players are senior Kyleigh Uhl, junior Lisa Wright, sophomore Maggie Curts and freshman Allison Weaver. Anderson coached Weaver on last spring’s Centerville junior high team.
“The girls are working hard, and the goal is to keep improving through the year, lowering those scores,” Anderson said.
Centerville graduated three players from last year’s squad, and two others did not return to the team.
For Lincoln, an experienced coach has a new job.
Bill Ott, a retired Lincoln teacher, steps in for Matt Davis to lead the Golden Eagle girls team. Ott formerly coached girls basketball, softball, and both boys and girls track at Lincoln.
Ashley Eblen, Kayla Patterson and Ella Pflum are returning for the Golden Eagles.
“The focus will simply be to improve from Day 1, just playing to get better, with a lot of work on chipping and putting,” Ott said.
“Golf is such a difficult sport, but I want the girls to enjoy the game, and just keep your head and play when things get tougher.”
There are many changes for past conference contender Winchester.
The Golden Falcons have a new coach, Aaron Shewman, who was a former boys golf standout at Centerville.
Two top Golden Falcons players graduated, and standout Mackenzie Mehaffey did not return to the team.
As the season neared, only four girls were expected to form the team: returning sophomores Keslyn Harris and Jaleesa Rush, plus incoming freshmen Sierrah Love and Elizabeth Pegg.
Because of the new coaching situation, and lack of experienced players, Winchester has canceled the first week of regular-season play.
“The focus for our team this year is having fun, getting experience and improving from the start of the season until the end,” Shewman said of his first Falcon squad.
“We’ve been working this summer, and I see potential in the girls.”