By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Northwestern’s boys golf team captured the Peru Sectional championship last year. The Purple Tigers return sectional medalist Nathan Edwards, but a repeat team title seems unlikely.
“This is going to be a tough year because last year, I graduated five seniors,” Northwestern coach Randy Lindgren said. “Last year, we won sectional. It’s pretty hard when you graduate five seniors to duplicate a situation like that. We have Nathan Edwards and the babies. I have one senior [Edwards], three sophomores and seven freshmen. It’s the youngest team I’ve ever had.
“And this year was the toughest year in 25, 26 years I’ve ever had as far as getting practice [because of the weather].”
Cold weather and a big snowfall before spring break made it difficult for the five Howard County squads to practice outside much in advance of the season, which opened this week.
“Last spring was so good, we got spoiled. Now this spring, we’re back to normal,” Western coach Steve Hoppes said.
The following are looks at the five local teams, in order of their 2012 sectional finishes.
The Tigers’ sectional title last year was their first since 2003 and sixth all-time. Edwards fired a 79 to win medalist honors.
Edwards will anchor the Tigers’ new-look lineup.
“Nathan is our senior leader. He has already accepted a scholarship to Taylor University to play golf,” Lindgren said. “Behind him, we have two sophomores in Blaine Brutus and Drew Gill. Those are my [Nos.] 1, 2, 3.”
Lindgren noted the rest of the lineup will take time to shake out.
“The kids all love golfing, but we are just young. We’ll be in training for awhile and hopefully peaking by the time the conference and the sectional gets here,” he said.
“It’s going to be an interesting season. But in two years, we should be very, very good.”
Northwestern opened against Marion on Tuesday, dropping a narrow decision in match play.
The Wildkats finished sixth in the 12-team sectional field and are hungry for a better finish with a seasoned group returning.
The Kats return seniors Josh Stewart and Prajin Srivastav and juniors Tanner Guyer and Jake Hopkins from their sectional lineup. Sophomore Ryan Balog also lettered last year.
“It’s nice to have the experience,” Kokomo coach Jay Davis said. “Plus, this being my second year, I didn’t have to start out with a lot of things I didn’t know. Now, I know them, their tendencies and their personalities. It should be a pretty easy group to work with.”
Davis is looking at several players for his No. 6 spot. Junior Andres Cockrell is the leading candidate with sophomore Tyler Emerick and freshman Conner Wood also in the mix.
Davis noted he has seen improvement from all of the players who are returning to the program from last year.
The Kats are hoping to improve on their sixth-place finishes in the 2012 North Central Conference and sectional meets.
“We were about .500 in dual matches and that was against some good competition, but we struggled in tournaments. I’d like to see our tournament scores improve,” Davis said.
Kokomo opens against Frankfort on Monday at the Kokomo Country Club.
Like Kokomo, Western returns the bulk of its lineup. The Panthers finished eighth in the sectional year.
“We have everybody back from our sectional team except Ben Constable, who was my only senior last year,” Hoppes said. “We have no seniors this year, but we should be pretty decent.”
The Panthers return Tyler White, Austin Smith, Ryan Rossi and Baylor Woolley from their sectional lineup. Brennan Raines also was a varsity regular last year.
Drew McDonald, Matt McKinney, Jake Bradway, A.J. Richards and P.J. Miller also are back from last year. Freshman Nolan Stout is the mix for playing time. Also new to the team are Koby Allen, Jake Reyburn and Tyler Strunk.
Western opens today against Maconaquah at Peru Municipal.
The Comets return the top two players from a team that finished 11th in the 2012 sectional. Senior Andrew Kerner and junior Matt Wylie will anchor the lineup again.
“We’re going to probably struggle a little bit this season, but I’m hoping to be able to see big things out of Andrew and Matt,” coach Mike Hamilton said. “They both have the ability to play No. 1. Neither one cares if he plays No. 1 or No. 2, they just want to play. I like that attitude.”
Junior Ethan Richards is penciled in for the No. 3 spot.
“Ethan is a left-hander. He didn’t play much varsity for us last year, but he played all summer,” Hamilton said, noting Richards has shown good improvement.
Senior Aaron Klemmensen is the leading candidate for the No. 4 spot and freshman Spencer Day is the likely No. 5 player.
The Comets’ roster also has senior Shelton Kirchner, junior Logan Colwell, sophomores Isaac Hanny, Landon Ingle and Devon McNew and freshman Gavin Cox.
Eastern opened its season on Tuesday against Peru.
Taylor coach Justin Palmer is eager to work with his squad.
“I have 14 kids out, which is the most that I’ve seen since I’ve been at Taylor,” he said.
The Titans return six letterwinners — senior Dalton Arvin and juniors Jack Lipchik, Fred Durham, Caleb Copp, Caleb Maple and Nick Denman. Lipchik is the Titans’ top returning player.
“They’re all showing signs of improvement from last year,” Palmer said.
The Titans finished last in the Mid-Indiana Conference and sectional meets last year. Palmer is hoping for better showings this year.
“Every year, you strive to be competitive. It seems like we’re always on the low tier, looking up. I’d like to see us be competitive this year. I hope after a couple weeks of solid practices and getting our first couple meets in, we can set our lineup to where we’re competing with everybody,” he said.
Taylor will open against Western on Wednesday.