As the most experienced member of Center Grove’s boys golf team, Ethan Shepherd can’t help but notice the elephant in the clubhouse.

Close as the program has come to claiming its first state championship the past two seasons, it has fallen frustratingly short both times.

Shepherd, a senior, played the No. 5 role for the Trojans when the team finished second at the 2015 State Finals. Last spring, he moved up to the second spot to help lead Center Grove to third in the final team standings.

With the top three players returning and Shepherd walking the back nine of his high school career, only one goal remains.

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“Me and Jacob (Sanders), we’re the only two seniors,” Shepherd said. “We feel like it’s our responsibility this year to lead the team and bring home that state championship.”

On March 28, first-year coach Matt Rodman started preseason practice rounds designed to give him a better grasp of which players are worthy of his top five.

Shepherd, along with juniors Noah Gillard (last year’s No. 1) and Sam Jean (No. 3) are virtual locks to remain in the top three spots when the Trojans open the season today against Plainfield at Hickory Stick Golf Club.

Similar to when Rodman’s predecessor, Jim Williams, was Center Grove’s coach, scoring averages from practice rounds determine which player plays where in the lineup.

“If you’re in the top five, that’s all that really matters,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd, who has signed a national letter of intent to play golf at Indiana University, placed second at last season’s Southport Sectional with a score of 70 at The Legends of Indiana. He carded a 75 the following week at the Providence Regional held at Champions Pointe.

He went on to tie for 20th place individually at the State Finals, shooting a 73-78—151 at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel.

With the unflappable senior leading the way this season, Rodman looks forward to watching what should be a squad capable of contending for a state title.

“Ethan does have more of a laid-back personality than some others, but he’s very competitive on the inside,” Rodman said. “If he has a bad hole or has a bad shot, he is very much the type that won’t let it bother him.

“He will just motivate himself to perform better on the next shot.”

Quite a run

A closer look at Center Grove’s impressive postseason résumé over the past few years:

2014: Southport Sectional (1st); Providence Regional (2nd); State Finals (6th)

2015: Southport Sectional (1st); Providence Regional (1st); State Finals (2nd)

2016: Southport Sectional (1st); Providence Regional (1st); State Finals (3rd)

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.