BY Dennis Glade Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — If the new school year is on the horizon, then one thing has already happened — high school girls golf is back.
Washington and North Daviess will kick off its 2013 season today in the Washington Invitational at Country Oaks in what hopes to be a better season than 2012.
Washington’s numbers have dwindled to only four varsity players, but coach Morris Petty sees great talent in all four of his players. Juniors Natalya Meinhart and Cheyenne Jones will try to take the next step after gaining two years of experience, while underclassmen Haven Lunsford (sophomore) and Alayna Purcell (freshman) attempt to hone their skills to compete on the varsity level.
“We don’t have much margin for error — that’s the bad news,” Petty said. “The good news is we have four quality players. We feel like we can compete with anyone on our schedule and compete in the state tournament as well. Natalya (Minehart) is going to start as our No. 1, she’s very talented. She needs to become more consistent, but she’s got a chance to be the best player in the area. Cheyenne (Jones) hits the ball farther than any girl I’ve ever coached — she’s extremely long. She can crush a golf ball, but she needs to work on her short game, but she has loads and loads of potential — she’ll be our No. 2.”
With the small numbers this season for the Hatchets, Washington needs Lunsford and Purcell to produce immediately this season for any chance of completing its goal of winning a sectional championship. Lunsford is only a sophomore, but already has one year of varsity experience under her belt.
“Haven (Lunsford) is not particularily long, but she is very accurate,” Petty said. “Right now, she is probably our best player from 100 yards in. At the end of last year she was pretty good, and her putting has gotten much better and she needs to get a little longer off the tee, but her game is pretty solid. Alayna (Purcell) is struggling with her swing a little bit, but the last couple practice we have made some changes. All I can really expect out of her, at least early in the year is to make bogey’s — if you make bogey’s, you’re going to make par’s every once in a while. She works hard at it, and she wants to be good — that’s half the battle.”
Petty says one of the keys to this season for the Hatchets with such small numbers on the team will be all four members working together every day to get better.
“The chemistry is good,” Petty said. “They are four good girls, they want to be golfers and they want to be good players — that means a lot.”
Heading into the 2013 season, North Daviess coach Brett Melton is just hoping for some continuity and sustained health throughout the roster. 2012 got off to a bumpy start when No. 1 golfer Cassie Knepp broke her foot ending her season before it started. With Knepp back in the fold, the Cougars have their sights set on a sectional championship.
“It was a huge blow early on for us,” Melton said. “Some of the girls were able to gain experience that wouldn’t normally have gotten on the course in her absence.”
North Daviess will be led by seniors Meghan Knepp, Maggie Swartzentruber, Cassie Knepp and Kirsten Madsen, while getting contributions from various underclassmen. The Cougars will field a team of 11 players, which Melton said should bring an atmosphere of competition in each practice.
“They have been there before, and there is no substitute for experience,” Melton said. “I think they might realize this is their last go-round, and they will only get to do this one last time, and their high school golfing career will be over.”
Entering the season with a veteran-laden squad, Melton said the Cougars have the capacity to achieve all their goals if they stay focused on each hole.
“Every girl has the capability, whether they get in the mind frame will be the test,” Melton said. “Golf is one of the hardest games you can ever play. Mentally and physically, I don’t think people realize how hard it is physically until you actually walk 18 holes and carry a 30-pound bag. If they’re able to overcome that both mentally and physically, I set a goal for us to be top three in the sectional, and I think that is very doable this year.”
As someone who enjoys golf a great deal and has had personal success on the course, Melton said he tries to identify certain things in each girls game to help bring about success.
“I try to make it fun for them, I don’t want them to think it’s a life or death experience out there for them,” Melton said. “I want them to go out there and have fun and play golf. There is a fine line between being relaxed and getting focused. You don’t want them to go out there and be so relaxed and not take it seriously. You would like them to not feel pressure and be focused enough that they play at their proper level.”
Melton believes competition can bring out the best in his players, and there are serveral other players hoping to get on the course on the varsity level. Juniors MaKayla Spears and Mattie Wagler, sophomore Hannah O’Haver, and freshman Madeleine Riggins and Abby Cecil are the future of the program.
“There is no spot that is guaranteed,” Melton said. “I believe you earn your spots — every girl is going to have an opportunity day in and day out. We are going to try every girl at some point in the lineup.”
North Daviess will play in the Washington Invitational today at Country Oaks, and Melton said the first match will be more of a gauge to see where the team is to start the season. Melton hopes the Cougars can build on each match and get better every day on their way to achieving some of the goals they have set.
“Getting to the regional as a team is a goal for us and I think that’s doable,” Melton said.