Three Center Grove golfers were fighting a losing battle at this time last year.
Talented as they were, Jackson Williams, Tyler Rankel and Sam Jean understood breaking into the Trojans’ senior-dominated varsity lineup would prove virtually impossible.
Now is their time.
The trio is expected to join returning starters Noah Gillard, a sophomore, and junior Ethan Shepherd, in an attempt to take care of what Center Grove coach Jim Williams said is a case of unfinished business.
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Last year’s squad, ranked No. 1 when the postseason began, performed below its capabilities in the opening round of the IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals with a team score of 298 at Prairie View Golf Course in Carmel.
The Trojans gamely rallied on a rain- and drizzle-filled second day but still finished four strokes behind eventual state champion Westfield to bring home the runner-up trophy.
“That has bothered me ever since last season. It’s one of those where I thought we were the best team there. I just thought we could have played better,” coach Williams said.
“We were nine deep last year with kids (shooting) in the 70s, so to be honest I’m expecting to get back to state and hopefully take one more step further.”
Leading the way is Gillard, who as a freshman flourished in pressure-packed situations to finish tied for ninth individually at state with a 1-over-par 74-71–145.
Gillard played No. 2 for Center Grove a year ago but is its No. 1 player this season. Shepherd, who carded a 79-74–153 at state to tie for 37th, moves to the second spot in Williams’ lineup.
Seniors Rankel and Jackson Williams, along with Jean, a sophomore, will determine who plays Nos. 3 through 5 based on practice scores between now and Center Grove’s opening match against Plainfield on April 6.
“I think we can finish what the other group started, and that was getting to state. We’ve got some guys who will definitely fill the spots of the players who graduated,” Rankel said. “A lot of us have worked hard during the offseason.
“For me, hitting the weightroom was really big. I do feel it has helped my golf game a lot. I’m just more consistent in terms of distances.”
A talented freshman class features Luke DeHaven, Logan Anderson, Dylan Bonfield and Will Hermesch. Others capable of making a push for varsity rounds as the regular season progresses are seniors Jacob McCarty and Cameron Milhoff and junior Jacob Sanders.
Coach Williams’ worry going into the season is pinpointing a leader, or leaders, among his top players.
“Right now my biggest concern is the leadership aspect. With the three seniors we had last year they were all right up front with the exception of Noah in the second spot. This year the young kids are up front, and then we’ve got the seniors there in the back along with Sam Jean,” he said.
“How are we going to handle getting mentally tougher than what we were last year? To me I think it’s the seniors’ responsibility. (Assistant coach) Deb (McClurg) and I have been talking about making practices competitive. Just trying to make every day a competitive venture for them.”
A look at the first matches and invitationals the Center Grove boys golf program takes part in this spring:
April 6 – vs. Plainfield at Deer Creek, 4 p.m.
April 9 – Hall of Fame Tournament at Rock Hollow (Peru), 10 a.m.
April 16 – Trojan Classic at Hickory Stick, 1 p.m.
April 18 – vs. Perry Meridian at Dye’s Walk, 4 p.m.
April 23 – Legends Invitational, 1 p.m.
April 28 – vs. Zionsville/Westfield at Broadmoor, 4 p.m.
April 30 – Brownsburg Invitational at West Chase, 8:30 a.m.