By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — Western’s boys golf team is thinking big this season.
The Panthers return their lineup intact after advancing to the Warsaw Regional last year.
“There is a lot expected out of these kids — I expect a lot of out of them, the school expects a lot out of them, and they expect a lot out of themselves,” longtime coach Steve Hoppes said. “The boys team has never gone to state [in school history]. The girls have gone so many times. The boys would love to make it. They want it badly. We feel like if we have any shot, it’s this year.”
The top three teams from each regional advance to state.
Hoppes noted there is a new regional destination for local teams this year. The top three teams from the Peru Sectional still will advance to the Warsaw Regional, but Warsaw will hold the regional at Rozella Ford G.C. instead of Stonehenge G.C.
“The IHSAA put in a new rule that you can’t host a sectional and a regional on your home course. You can host both, but one of them has to be on a neutral course. It’s an excellent rule change,” Hoppes said, noting teams that host both on their home course hold a big advantage.
Kokomo and Northwestern also are fired up for the new season. The Wildkats are boosted by the addition of junior Zach Watterson. He previously played at Cass and was the Peru Sectional medalist last year. The Purple Tigers return the bulk of their lineup.
The following are looks at the five Howard County teams, in order of their sectional finishes last year.
The Panthers had several big moments last season. They shot a school-record 299 in the Northwestern Invitational at Green Acres G.C. They finished as runners-up in the Mid-Indiana Conference tournament at Wildcat Creek and also in the Peru Sectional at Rock Hollow.
Senior Tyler White leads the battle-tested Panthers. He led the team in the MIC and sectional last year. He tied for low score in the sectional and finished second in a three-man playoff.
“Whitey led us all last year and he is going to lead us all this year. He knows it and the rest of the kids know it,” Hoppes said. “He’s confident in himself, which is important if you’re going to play No. 1.
“All of the other kids shot in the 70s at certain times last year. We feel like we can get four or five kids in the 70s, maybe in the middle 70s. That will give us that low score we’re looking for.”
Seniors Austin Smith and Brennan Raines, juniors Ryan Rossi and Baylor Woolley and sophomore Nolan Stout are the Panthers’ other returning players.
Senior Matt McKinney, juniors P.J. Miller and A.J. Richards and freshman Riley Tomlinson round out the roster.
Western opens against Maconaquah on Thursday at Chippendale, then plays in the Twin Lakes Invitational on Saturday at the Tippecanoe Country Club in Monticello.
“Saturday is going to tell us if we’re any good,” Hoppes said. “It’s a 21-team tournament and there’s some class teams in that thing. It’s a tough golf course, too.”
The Wildkats will look to improve on fifth-place showings in both the North Central Conference tournament and the Peru Sectional.
“This is my third year as coach and I think we’ve made some advancements with the team each year,” coach Jay Davis said. “My first year, I basically had a set lineup of guys and last year I had a pretty good idea of the separation between the varsity and JV. This year I have a lot more depth. I’d say as many as nine guys could see varsity action this year. I love the level of competition.”
Watterson gives the Kats a solid No. 1.
“Zach is a great, solid golfer. He is great academically, too. He came over to Kokomo to take [advanced placement] classes,” Davis said. “He is interested in some of the Ivy League schools. He wants to play golf in college, but he is very, very concentrated on his academics.”
Davis returns seniors Tanner Guyer and Jake Hopkins and junior Ryan Balog from the Kats’ sectional lineup. Davis noted Guyer looks poised for a big season and likely will fill the No. 2 position.
Davis also has seniors Andres Cockrell, Tyler Emerick and Jeff McKay and sophomores Sam Seagrave and Conner Wood in the mix for varsity spots.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Davis said. “I think I have probably the most solid team I’ve had in the three years I’ve been coach, but until we play some matches, I just don’t know. I feel pretty confident about the top of my lineup. ... I like to think my team could shoot 160-165 on a consistent basis. If we can do that, I like our chances in a lot of dual matches.”
Kokomo opens against Eastern on Thursday at Kokomo C.C.
Longtime coach Randy Lindgren returns four of the five players from his sectional lineup. The Tigers finished sixth in the 12-team sectional.
“We’re very youthful. We have 15 players on the team — two juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen,” he said. “We’re led by junior Blaine Brutus, who made the regional last year. He’ll play No. 1 with Drew Gill, our other junior, playing No. 2. Positions 3-7 could be musical chairs.
“We are talented. It should be an exciting year.”
Brutus fired an 80 in the sectional to snag one of the regional qualifying spots.
Also back from the sectional lineup are Gill and sophomores Gray Longshore and Parker Stroud.
Lindgren is eager to see his younger players in action. Northwestern opens today against Marion at Meshingomesia C.C.
“With the poor weather we’ve had, we haven’t had a lot of consistent practice time. We’re going to be very unpolished for a few weeks until we get our stride down,” he said.
Northwestern plays its home matches at Green Acres G.C.
“The new owner, Brad Oliver, is very gracious and very helpful,” Lindgren said. “He really encourages kids’ membership. He has lowered membership prices this year for the kids to get more kids out there because he sees youth as very important for the longevity of golf.”
The Comets return three players from their sectional lineup — senior Matt Wylie, junior Isaac Hanny and sophomore Spencer Day. Wylie shot a team-best 85 in the sectional. Eastern finished eighth in the 12-team field.
Wylie also led the Comets in the MIC tournament last year with an 84.
Senior Logan Cowell also is back for Eastern and senior Riley Shaw, junior Chase McMain and freshmen Conner Zirkle and Will Hensley are new to the mix.
“We’re looking at the four [returning players] and Chase and Conner for our Nos. 1-6 positions in some fashion. The other two are fairly new to the game,” coach Mike Hamilton said, noting it’s still early in practice.
Wylie will anchor the lineup from the No. 1 spot with Hanny likely filling the No. 2 spot.
“Matt is a seasoned veteran and Isaac can play so I’m pretty comfortable with those first two, but then as far as positions, I’m just going to see where we go after this week,” Hamilton said.
Eastern opens today at Peru, then has two more matches this week.
Eastern has a new home course this year. The Comets join Western and Taylor in calling Chippendale G.C. home.
“The Humphrey family has been good to us,” Hamilton said. “Things didn’t materialize for us back at Wildcat Creek. We needed a place to go and we went to the Humphrey family. They’re working [a crowded high school and middle school schedule]. They’re a great family. They really believe in the youth.”
Hamilton noted he has a new assistant coach, Jef Buckley. He is filling the role previously held by longtime assistant Jerry Carpenter, who passed away in October.
Seniors Caleb Copp, Brad Townsend, Nick Denman and Fred Durham lead the Titans. Sophomores Alan Bottomley and Clay Dishon and freshman Bryce Fritsch, Tyler Koon and Tyler Till also are in the mix.
Durham, Bottomley and Copp played in the sectional last year.
“I think there’s going to be a competitive nature this year,” Taylor coach Justin Palmer said. “I’d be lying if I said after three or four matches, the top five wasn’t kind of established, but I really look for all the kids to push each other for those top five spots. I expect the freshmen to push the older kids.”
Palmer expects to have a better feel for his squad after a few more practices.
“The weather has kind of been detrimental the past couple weeks, but we’re kind of lucky in the fact we don’t have our first match until next week so hopefully we’ll have some nice days to practice and get ready,” he said.
Taylor opens against Western on April 23 at Chippendale.