The 2009 IHSAA girls golf season is set to tee off this week as the five Howard County teams swing into action.

And if the number of returning letter winners is any indication, all five are headed for banner seasons. Only five seniors who were in the Western Sectional lineups a year ago were lost to graduation this spring.

Northwestern lost two golfers, including No. 1 Alyssa McClure. Taylor didn’t lose any seniors, although one of the Titans’ top five isn’t returning.

Eastern, Kokomo and Western lost only one senior apiece, although the Wildkats will suffer the greatest.

The Kats say goodbye to Kristi Cardwell, the reigning Hoosier Junior champion who finished fifth at the state finals in 2008, a four-year stalwart for Kokomo coach Andy Carpenter.

Cardwell is headed for the University of Iowa this fall.

“We’re taking a bit hit, just losing Kristi off of our lineup from last year,” said Carpenter, who’s guided the Kats to four straight regional appearances with the help of Cardwell. “But at least we have the four other girls who were there.

“We’ll be decent. We’re not going to be like we were the last few years without Kristi and her score.”

The Panthers look forward to the return of a strong nucleus from the team that finished 15th in the state in ’08. Their biggest loss, though, may be losing the sectional at Chippendale Golf Club, which will switch to Dykeman Municipal Golf Course in Logansport.

Western and Chippendale have hosted a sectional every year since 1999. Northwestern played in the Logansport Sectional at Dykeman until being moved to Chippendale in 2000.

The Berries continued to host their sectional until 2007, when they were moved to the Western Sectional. Panthers athletic director Rick Fields said he has not heard of any plans from the IHSAA to at least swap sites with Logan in alternating years.

“We’re disappointed,” Fields said. “We would like to get it back, even if it’s just every other year.

“Chippendale always does an unbelievable job. The course is always in great shape and it’s friendly to parents and fans. There’s no reason not to have it at Chippendale. That’s my hope.”

The following are capsules of the county teams, in order of their sectional finish.

Western

The Panthers woke up the echoes last year, sweeping through Mid-Indiana Conference, sectional and regional titles on the way to their first state-finals appearance since 2004.

After that 15th-place finish a year ago, there isn’t much left to accomplish for this group, led by four-year seniors Carlee Cossell, Ashley Young, Maggie Talbert.

“Those three have all the experience in the world and this is their year,” said Western coach Steve Hoppes. “There’s no more left for high-school golf and they know that. They’ve set their goals since they were freshmen and hopefully we can complete that.”

Add to the mix sophomore Courtnee Cossell, who led the Panthers with a 77 at sectional last year, and they will be formidable this season.

“The girls know now what it’s like,” Hoppes said. “Going [downstate] last year was a great thing to do and their goal is the second day and hopefully make it onto the podium.

“We’re not thinking first, second or third. We just hope to get a medal.”

Sophomore Sybil Gill and freshman Allison Lindley are the early leaders to replace the graduated Mary Harbaugh in the lineup, along with senior Alisha Herr.

“We don’t have the one who can shoot even par, but we’ve got five or six girls who can all shoot high 70s, low 80s,” said Hoppes. “That’s a team effort.”

Western kicks off the season Tuesday at the Valparaiso Invitational.

Kokomo

The Wildkats picked up a second-place finish behind Western after having won the sectional three straight times.

Carpenter admits that a fourth sectional championship in five years would be a long shot, but he has his sights set on another regional trip.

“I’ll think we’ll be really consistent this year,” said Carpenter. “I know Western is coming back with a really tough team.

“To look at winning [the sectional], we’re going to have to play a really good round and hope they maybe have a bad day. I feel comfortable that we can finish in the top three.”

Carpenter’s squad is led by a pair of three-year starters, junior Kylie Kern and senior Lindsy Jenkins. They’re backed by returnees Mary Kate Balsbaugh, a junior, and senior Tausha Imlay.

Jordan Broomfield, another senior, could round out the lineup in the No. 5 spot, along with newcomers Lexi Laird, a junior, and sophomore Jenna Gilbert.

“Right now it’s hard to determine who’s going to improve throughout the year,” Carpenter said. “I think all of the girls are going to compliment each other and be ready for the big tournaments.”

Kokomo begins play Monday with the Harrison Invitational.

Northwestern

The Tigers finished third at Chippendale last season, extending a long streak of regional appearances that dates as far back as 1996 when coach Randy Lindgren led them to a state runner-up finish.

“Young” is how Lindgren described this year’s squad in a nutshell, with Jackie Adams returning as the team’s lone senior.

“She’ll be a super leader,” Lindgren said of Adams, who shot a team-best 88 at the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

“She’s already done many things for us during the summer and I expect great things out of Jackie. She’s a tremendous student-athlete and I’m lucky to have her.”

Also returning are sophomores Peyton Hite and Jillian Hungate, as well as junior Darrian LaDow from the junior varsity.

Lindgren expects “five talented freshmen” — Libby Hansen, Morgan Rupert, Christa McClure, Sammie Brown and Mollee Mygrant — to vie for varsity spots.

“It’s kind of a crapshoot who we’ll start,” said Lindgren. “We know our [Nos.] 1, 2 and 3 will be Jackie, Jillian and Peyton. And then everyone else is basically shooting the same scores, at least in the summer.

“We’ll probably have changing lineups throughout the season until sectional, then we’ll figure out who the top five are.”

Northwestern begins play Wednesday with the Kokomo Invitational at Chippendale.

Eastern

The Comets welcome back seven girls with varsity or JV experience, including four from the sectional roster, yet still they have no seniors.

Coach Mike Hamilton is pleased with the way several of them have been working this summer.

“We’ve got some girls who have worked one-on-one with themselves, which is what I think is the best way to practice golf,” he said. “Not that they haven’t played some tournaments, but they spent probably 75 percent of their time practicing, chipping and putting, going out to the range — the things they don’t like to do.”

Juniors Kayla Elkins and Emily Seagrave and sophomore Kaylee Kingseed are projected as Eastern’s top three. That leaves juniors Katie McKinney, Jacgueline Johnson and Kathy Lee Grider and sophomore Carly Wimmer all battling for positions.

“I look for them to be, top to bottom, very competitive,” said Hamilton. “I can guarantee it will be a fun season with this group of young ladies.”

The Comets begin play Wednesday with the Kokomo Invitational at Chippendale.

Taylor

The Titans, like the Comets, return four letter winners with no seniors, giving coach George Phares reason to be optimistic.

“We’re looking for a lot of progress,” he said. “We are a year older and hopefully a year better.

“I know a couple of the girls have played a lot of golf this summer. We hope that translates to a better season this year.”

Returning are juniors Amy Lipchik, Victoria Saul and Emily Dill and sophomore Emily Boyd. Newcomer Kaitlyn Marler, a junior, will round out the lineup.

“As the year progresses we just want to get continually better, and when we get around conference time and sectional time hopefully we’re playing our best golf,” Phares said.

The Titans begin play Tuesday with a match against Elwood at Chippendale.

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