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BOYS GOLF: Howard County 2024 season preview

Apr. 13—This story has been edited from the print version to add a player to Northwestern's roster.

Northwestern's boys golf team takes to the new season enthusiastically with the return of its entire starting five from the team that took second at the Peru Sectional last season and advanced to the regional round.

"Last year gave this group the confidence to compete," NW coach Kurt Koetter said. "We view last season as a building block for our program moving forward."

With a team of 19 players, and plenty in contention to make the lineup, Northwestern has a lot of options.

"There will be competition amongst the team to crack into the lineup," Koetter said. "We currently have at least 12-14 players that are capable of scoring in the 40s for nine holes. One thing that I can count on is that this group of players really seem to enjoy playing golf. As a coach, I love seeing players return to the first tee to play more golf once practice has ended. They can't get enough of the game. It makes it very enjoyable to coach."

Hudson Whaley led Northwestern at the sectional last season, shooting 79 and tying for fourth overall as the Tigers carded 353. Had Northwestern not advanced as a team, Whaley would have tied for the top advancing individual. Sammy Shotwell was next with an 85. Brayden Applegate shot 94, Jackson Peelle 95 and Logan Duncan 96.

Seniors this season are Shotwell, Applegate, Gavin Padfield, Lucas Miller, Jeff White, Caleb Eller and Jacob Walk. Juniors are Duncan, Chase Goad and Cameron Morgan. Sophomores are Whaley, Peelle and Brady Grant. And freshmen are Josh Miller, Adam Lesko, Ben Arnold, Jonah Jones, Preston Keating, and Conner Gaier.

"We honestly have nine or 10 players right now competing for the five spots," Koetter said.

At this point, Koetter said Whaley, Shotwell and Duncan will fill the Nos. 1-3 spots in the lineup with Peelle and Applegate likely at Nos. 4-5.

"However senior Lucas Miller [in his] first season on the team, will be in the mix for one of those spots. We also have a foreign exchange student, Jacob Walk, and returning players in Brady Grant and Gavin Padfield that will be in the mix as well," Koetter said.

The returning players and robust state of the program has Koetter looking at both long-term interests, and immediate goals.

"My personal hope for this season is to continue growing the game of golf," he said. "I am proud of the fact we have so many young players showing such an interest in the game.

"Our team goals are to compete at conference, and most of all win sectionals."

Below are looks at the other three teams in the county. Taylor does not have a team this spring.

WESTERN

The Panthers return their top four scorers from last season's sectional team, which just missed out on advancing by one spot, taking fourth at Rock Hollow, two strokes back of third-place finisher Southwood.

Returning are that quartet of sophomore Callen Szerdy, sophomore Brody Fisher, senior Ethan Fisher and junior Jack Chiu. Also back are junior Brody Hobson and sophomore Dane Trent. They're joined by six freshmen — Landen Gibbs-Whalen, Maddox Williams, Graham Hobson, Tate Holder, Zane Owens and Luke Barber.

Brody Fisher was the team's low scorer at the sectional last season with an 83 and qualified for the regional as an individual. Brody Hobson returns after suffering an injury before last season.

"I've really been impressed with what the guys are shooting so far in practice," Western coach Blake Conklin said. "How well they've been hitting it early speaks to how hard they worked in the offseason.

"Getting everyone back from last year's team is definitely a strength. They gained a ton of experience last year, and having that in their mental bank only helps them going forward. Another strength is our depth. We have a lot of dudes that can really play, and they love to compete with each other. That in-practice competition will only make everyone better because we have a lot of guys fighting for spots. That's what we build around — compete, at all times, compete."

Picking a lineup is already a challenge.

"The starting five question is interesting because there's a good chance it will look different, not only from week to week, but from match to match," Conklin said. "That speaks to our depth, and how many guys can go out and shoot a good number.

"I'm definitely stressing over it, especially because it's so close between a number of guys and it could come down to me choosing, but it's a good problem to have. Callen, Ethan and Brody Fisher will be the stalwarts in the top five."

So far, Brody Hobson, Chiu, Trent, Gibbs-Whalen and Williams are the leaders in contention for the other two starting spots.

The team is already aiming high. Conklin said the goal is "win sectionals. And that's not coming from me, that's coming from them. I asked them before we started practice whether they believed we could win sectionals and they said yes. That's good enough for me, and I plan on holding them to it."

KOKOMO

The Wildkats will be largely rebuilt and only slightly resemble the team that took fifth in the sectional last season.

Returning are senior William Nelson and sophomore Canaan Horner. The rest of the starting five is new. Joining them are freshmen Mitchell McClelland and Ashtyn Goff, and junior Swiss exchange student Damian Kunz.

Kokomo coach Matt York said the Kats have "very, very little" experience on the team. "I have two kids really with any varsity experience, and then there are a couple middle school kids that played last year, but I'd say less than 50 percent have actual playing time in the last year. Very inexperienced, young team."

Given that, with 15 players out for the team, there are a lot of positives for York to work with. He talked about what the Kats need in order to grow.

"Honestly, for a lot of these young kids, it's just teaching them the game of golf, teaching them integrity, that's No. 1 etiquette, [having] good sportsmanship. I'm looking for kids who can come out, enjoy, have a good time and just show up."

As an example of the positive attitudes so far, the Kats' match on Thursday was called off due to rain and in the wake of that York said "I've got kids that were like 'can we still go out for practice?' These guys are wanting to play, put forth an effort, practice, practice, practice.

"The goal is for you guys to be good at the end of the year. I am happy to have at least a few kids who are very eager to get out and play and want to show up when I don't ask them to. At the end of the day this sport's about getting better, feeling proud of what they do and their accomplishments."

Individual and team accomplishments are secondary this season to building the program and creating a good environment.

"We may not shoot the lowest score in the sectional, but I want them to be good sports and have good sportsmanship, improving from now to where we'll be in 6-7 weeks," York said. "[Scoring medalists], that's not what it's about this year. It's about kids getting better."

EASTERN

The Comets return four of five players from the sectional squad, six overall from the team and are already seeing progress with a 16-member team.

"Through two matches so far, I am impressed with what we have going," Eastern coach Michael Lamb said. "The scores we have posted in the first few rounds are much improved form the previous year. I am excited with the progress we have seen from our returning guys, and then the addition of a couple freshmen coming aboard this season. Our new players are making progress. We are seeing a lot of improvement from those players from the first week out to where we are now in the season."

So far this season, the Comets have used a five-player lineup of senior Bryce Barker, sophomore Sam Torivo, freshman Gabe Gomez, junior Cohen Johnson and junior Kailin Cook. Barker, Torivo, Johnson and Cook were all in the 2023 sectional lineup. Other players in the mix are junior Evan Wright, freshman Tyler Ailles and sophomore Layke Hall.

With a settled lineup, Lamb feels the Comets can build around this core now and have promise for future seasons. He likes the progress Baker, Torivo and Johnson have shown and thinks Gomez is already a solid player. Johnson started playing last season and has seen a lot of improvement. There are several Comets in the position Johnson was in last year and Lamb is enthused that the work they've put in so far is already paying off.

"My hope for this team is to ultimately have fun and be competitive," Lamb said. "We have improved so much since the end of last year and it is exciting to see the growth. The guys are believing that they can compete in matches this season. There is a different feeling this year when we show up to play. I believe that this season we will continue to gain some confidence and I believe that we will see our scores continue to improve."