LEXINGTON — All eyes are on the senior-laden Lexington Minutemen and their bid to become only the second boys team in school history to reach the Division I state golf tournament.
Except for coach Ryan Zahn. His eyes aren’t looking that far ahead
Zahn is just worried about getting through the Ohio Cardinal Conference. There’s no guarantee the title is staying with Lex for a fourth straight year.
“This league is as strong as it’s been in awhile,” he said. “Clear Fork has a really good team and Ashland is back to being Ashland — shooting great scores.”
Zahn also counted Wooster and West Holmes among the OCC contenders.
“It’s shot to shot, day to day,” he said. “We’re focused on the next match. We try to get better and hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll have the opportunity to do some things. The league being really good helps us.”
The OCC tournament at Mohican Hills is still three weeks away, but the Minutemen built a strong base in August by playing several tournaments against very good competition.
Seniors Kaleb Smith and Spencer Stierhoff lead the pack, with fellow seniors Joey Zahn and Tommy Barkett and junior Remington Dreibelbis not far behind.
Smith won the Richland County Juniors by 13 strokes and also took top honors as Lex won the title at the Colt Classic, hosted by Clear Fork at Deer Ridge. Stierhoff was medalist at the Marysville Invitational.
Both are averaging 38 for nine holes. Barkett and Zahn are just under 42 and Dreibelbiss just under 43.
The Minutemen have enjoyed top five finishes at Marysville, the Dayton Invitational and the Weiss Invitational at Ashland Country Club.
“I definitely think we have two really, really good players,” Zahn said of Smith and Stierhoff. “They’ve been great, both under par several times, and we have three solid players behind them. All three of them have shown flashes and I think all of them are going to start playing better. That’s the hope. We have pretty good rhythm on this team.”
Clear Fork coach Jeff Gottfried returns three of his best players off last year’s team, which took fourth at Division II districts: seniors Luke Watson, Dakotah McClain and Devon Shortridge, all of whom are capable of being low man on any given day.
Watson has been the most consistent Colt the last couple of years, but McClain tied for runner-up honors at the Richland County Juniors this summer and Shortridge began the final round of that tournament five-under after four holes, showing his potential when he puts it all together.
The Colts own a title this season at the Tyger Invitational.
Hard to believe, but Ashland hasn’t won a league title since 2011, back when the Arrows and Minutemen seemed to duke it out year after year for OCC supremacy. But it appears that second-year coach Dave Chapman has the program ready to contend again.
District qualifier Beau Bayerl, who averaged 38.5 last season, is back and fellow junior Johnny Peck has returned after a one-year hiatus. Ashland also welcomes newcomers Max Watson and Tony Chardon.
Chapman says Bayerl, Peck and Watson are all capable of consistently shooting in the 70s, which should be good enough to keep the Arrows in the hunt.
The Madison and Mansfield Senior rosters have a strong senior flavor. The Rams are led by seniors Jacob Seamans, Kyle Matern and Jacob Nikolaus, along with junior letterman Jacob Koehler. The Tygers are led by Dylan Dudley and fellow seniors Zach Blank, Joseph Gallaway and Jacob Miller. Sophomore Shandon Kiah is another letterman.
Madison was runner-up in Galion’s Ed Koehl Invitational. The Rams were led by an 81 from Seamans and an 87 from Matern. Behind those two, Koehler and Bronson Henry, Madison also finished sixth out of 15 teams in the Hillsdale Invitational.
Here’s a look at other area programs outside the OCC:
CRESTVIEW: After winning a state championship in 2012 and following up with top six finishes the past two seasons, the Cougars are practically starting over after losing All-Ohioans Ben Olewiler and Bryce Lutz and 15-year coach Bob Olewiler.
Senior Joe Stimpert is the only state scorer back for new coach Rick Belcher. The Cougars also return lettermen in seniors Michael Kochenderfer and James Bond, junior Ray Kochenderfer and sophomores Jake Salyers and Samantha Staniford.
Despite the inexperience, Belcher doesn’t rule out his Cats contending for a fifth straight Firelands Conference title.
ONTARIO: Former Lex star and Westbrook Country Club assistant pro Jake Houston has this program headed in the right direction. The Warriors started out 3-0 in the Northern Ohio League and took runner-up honors to Clear Fork at the Tyger Invitational.
Leading the way are juniors Austin McCray and Adam Miller and sophomores Dominic Castelvetere, Marc Wilkins Jr., Jake Gleason and Tony Sansalone. With 22 golfers on the team, only one of them a senior, Houston is very optimistic about the future and expects to contend for NOL titles for years to come.
SHELBY: First-year coach Justin Schroeder says his lineup changes on a regular basis, thanks to five returning lettermen and five other Whippets giving him options. Junior Brock Kehres, an all-Northern Ohio League performer last season, heads the returnees, joined by senior Kane Wagoner, juniors Matthew Hiatt and Dave Hipp and sophomore Dalton Boyce.
Schroeder expects his squad to contend for an NOL title.
GALION: Veteran coach Bryce Lehman counts youth as a team strength. There isn’t a senior on the roster, but junior lettermen Nick Kruger and Brevin Owens are helping to fill the leadership void. Other returning lettermen are sophomores Mitch Dyer and Sam Rigdon.
COLONEL CRAWFORD: Coaches Brett Kaple and Nate Hill are counting on seniors Noah Trease and Isaak Sulser and junior Nick Gremling to bring the younger players along. All three have earned multiple letters. Trease was first-team All-Northern 10 last year, averaging just under a 44.
BUCKEYE CENTRAL: With 11 freshmen and sophomores among the 14 players on the team, there will be no repeat of last season, when coach Phil Loy’s squad went 10-1 overall and 8-1 in the Northern 10.
But Loy has made finishing in the top half of the N10 a goal as well as qualifying for districts as a team. For that to happen, senior lettermen Tanner Zaebst and Dillon Weithman and sophomore returnee Dalton Sheaffer will have to pull everyone else along. Zaebst was first team all-conference last season and Weithman earned honorable mention.
WYNFORD: MacKenton Johnson is the only returning letterman in the program, but second-year coach Tim Ehresman believes newcomers Logen Sand and Jack Reed bear watching.
CARDINGTON:Gilead Christian junior transfer Austin Yake was medalist in eight of the Pirates’ first nine duals or tri-matches. He’s averaging a 41. Female team member Nadia Kerman is averaging a 46 competing against boys. A team highlight is finishing second behind Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference co-leader Mount Gilead at the Highland Invitational.
HILLSDALE: A new season has brought a new coach the last four years, but with 12 golfers out this season first-year boss Buddy Essick might hang around for awhile.
He likes how things look for the future, while leaning on seniors Adam Cutlip and Ben Raudebaugh right now.
LOUDONVILLE: The Redbirds’ biggest concern is low numbers. With only six boys out, they can’t afford many bad rounds if the team is to be competitive. First-year coach Jim Conley returns seniors Garrett Quickle — who pulls double-duty as a football player — and Coleton Heffelfinger, along with juniors Sean Whitehead and Brennan Laser.
MAPLETON: Coach Mick Griggs admits that having a young team still learning the fundamentals of golf doesn’t translate into newspaper headlines, but he’s encouraged by the progress being made by his players, particularly senior Tony Howman and sophomore Gage Espy. They’ve had scores in the 30s and low 40s during practice and qualifying rounds, but have yet to put it together in competition.
Griggs has also seen improvement in junior returnees Nik Beebe and Garrett Merle and returning junior varsity player Josh Minor.
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