Golf: North Marion girls tee off the season on Monday
Although the spring athletic season has been under way for nearly a month already, golf operates at its own pace. After a month to get ready for the coming season, the North Marion girls golf team tees off this week with the Huskies' scheduled trip to Creekside Golf Club in Salem on Monday to open the season.
Led by the returning trio of sophomore Alana Walls, junior Raymee Boese and senior Kysa Miller, the Huskies are excited to get the season started with the right club forward.
"I'm kind of excited on what those three can do this year," North Marion head coach Keith Lee said. "Our team goal is for all three of them to break 100 in a match. I think the closest we got last year was around 110."
Miller came closest of the three at Monday's season opener, leading the Huskies with a score of 107. She was followed by Boese at 121 and Walls at 127.
Of course every coach enters the season with a certain level of optimism, but after working with the Huskies through the first month of the spring season and going back into practice rounds over winter, he's confident this year's team has a strong foundation to build upon.
"They're pretty much picking up where they left off," Lee said. "Alana — something has clicked in her game. She's made a few comments of why she needs to do things in practice. She's hitting the ball really well."
The Huskies caught a glimpse of that potential nearly a month ago when the team took part in a preseason 9-hole warm up match at Salem Golf Club. Walls and Boese made the trip, along with newcomers Samantha Simon and Emma Hanson.
Walls led the way with a 56, followed by 64 from Boese, while Simon and Hanson played an alternate shot format for new players. While that is a ways off of the preseason goal of breaking 100 in a full 18-hole game, even small changes in shot selection and swing mechanics can create a ripple effect through an entire match that can shave big numbers off their final score.
"We're really just getting started," Lee said. "They've done really good in practice, working on their short game."
For Simon and Hanson, Lee's goal is to simply help them build confidence and work on developing a proper swing. Because they're both new, neither of them have any bad habits to break, giving Lee a blank slate to work with this year.
"We kind of had a breakthrough," Lee said. "(Hanson) starting to hit the ball a bit longer and more consistently. Same with Samantha."
The pair shot nine holes on Monday, with Hanson scoring 60 and Simon following at 70.
While Lee anticipated to have a full five-member veteran team this year, expected returners Carissa Jones and Ann-Elise Lader opted out of the team for this season. While the loss of two veterans was a setback, Lee is crossing his fingers they return next season to pair with Walls, Boese, Simon and Hanson, giving the Huskies a full contingent to compete with in 2019.
On the boys side, the Huskies are led by senior Grant Hurst and junior Owen Arnett, who have already begun competition this season. The North Marion boys are coming off of their lone home event of the season at Langdon Farms on Thursday.
Despite the rainy conditions, Hurst finished the match in third place out of the field of 34 players, putting up a score of 88. Arnett followed by shooting 104 on the day.
It was a solid indication of where Hurst is capable of playing this season. The North Marion senior had his best score last year at the district event where he shot an 89 in much more favorable weather than he played last week. Hurst finished the first day of the district event in fifth place and on the cusp of qualifying for the state tournament, but fell out of contention in the second day.
Lee expects him to be back in contention this year, noting that Hurst has all the tools to compete, but needs to work more on his mental approach to the game than his mechanics.
"Mostly for him, it's working on his mental game and not trying to do too much," Lee said. "Rein him in so he manages his way around the course. You don't always have to take out the driver and go deep. You throttle back a little and play the smart shot."
Lee has worked with Hurst by having him practice on shorter par-4 holes and playing with only his irons so Hurst has to figure out ways to get around the course without relying on hitting a home run shot with his driver.
"Like most young kids he's trying to bomb it," Lee said. "I'm trying to get him to where he doesn't have to tee it up and let it fly."
Arnett has started the season similar to where he left off, hitting in the vicinity of 95 to 100. Lee hopes that Arnett's second year of golf gives him an opportunity to continue to improve his game so he's in a position to challenge for districts in 2019, similar to where Hurst is at this season.
"He's been pretty consistent for us, so I'm looking for him to improve enough in districts so next year he can step up and be the leader on this team," Lee said.
Rounding out the team are newcomers Carson Hubbard, a freshman, and senior Anthony Sandoval.
Both new to the sport, Hubbard and Sandoval are simply learning the basics so they can apply it to the game in the future, be it at the high school level for Hubbard, or somewhere else down the line for Sandoval after he graduates this year.
"I try not to treat them any different," Lee said. "I look at it from a golf instructor's perspective: I got two students and I'm trying to teach them the game. It's fun to see their faces when something clicks. They get so excited. It's what keeps me coming back every time."