Strong local talent makes for an interesting year

Elkhart Memorial senior Courtney King will shoot for her fourth-straight regional appearance this season as the 2019 girls golf season gets underway.

The girls golf season got underway this week with NorthWood, Northridge and Penn hoping to carry the momentum gained from last season.

Coach Adam Yoder will be leading a Panthers squad that is ranked ninth in the preseason coaches poll. 

A year ago, NorthWood qualified for state and placed 10th after winning a sectional title and placing second at the regional. 

Yoder, who's entering his 12th year as coach, has consistently produced elite golfers. 

There's a numerous list of accomplishments attached to the program.

The Panthers have qualified for the regionals in 10 of the last 11 years, have compiled 50 straight victories in Northern Lakes Conference nine hole matches and are looking for their eight straight NLC title. 

"Our season expectations are two-fold as always," said Yoder, whose squad ended up 13-0 overall last year. "We want to give ourselves a realistic chance to win the NLC title heading into the NLC tournament and we want to qualify for the IHSAA East Noble Regional."

Heading the list of returning players is sophomore Cybil Stillson, who was an All-State and All-NLC selection as a freshman. 

Depth is provided by seniors Delaney Davis, Makenna Gall, Kylee Gall and Kirsten Schrock, along with junior Abigail Richner and sophomore Breanna Goss.

Davis was an all-conference member last year and Schrock earned all-conference honorable mention honors. 

"We lost four-year letterwinners in MacKenzie Weaver and Abby Slabaugh from last year's team, but we return five girls who played at least 18 holes in the IHSAA State Finals in 2018, including Cybil Stillson," Yoder said. 

"We're very excited about our senior class, the returning underclassmen and our newcomers. We have a core of young ladies who have made a lot of strides this spring and summer, so we're anxious to get the official season started."

Also in the NLC, Northridge is seeking its third straight sectional title. 

The Raiders played with heavy hearts last season.

"Looking forward to getting back to full-time coaching, after last year's coaching came to a stop with the passing of my wife on the first day of school," said Northridge coach Ken Brewster, whose squad finished 13-3 overall and 5-2 in the NLC. 

"I'm looking forward to coaching this years group of seniors. which includes my daughter."

The lone returning letterwinners are seniors Braedyn O'Dell, Ashley Brewster and Jules Weaver. O'Dell was a sectional medalist as a junior and qualified individually for state. O'Dell has been a state finalist three times. Ashley Brewster placed third last year at the sectional.

Concord, which is an honorable mention selection to enter the season, has been a regional qualifier the last three years.

There's plenty of talent returning from last year's squad, which finished 6-1 in the NLC and 12-3 overall.

Those returning letterwinners are seniors Lauren Boessler, Gabby Sponseller, juniors Gracie Tucker, Evelyn Theinert and Cate Stauffer, along with sophomore Rayna Boessler. 

Lauren Boessler has finished in the top 10 at sectionals over her three years, with a second placing showing her best performance. Lauren was an all-conference selection in 2017 and an honorable mention selection last year. She has broken the school-record twice for low 18-hole score.

"I'm looking forward to another fun year with this great group of young women," said Concord coach Tara Boessler. "There was only one senior on the varsity last year and Rayna and Cate are ready to step into that position. 

"I'm hoping with five players with regional experience that they will help guide the team well into postseason play again this year."

Elkhart Memorial will be led by senior Courtney King, who has been a regional qualifier the last three years. 

Other returning letterwinners are seniors Lily Ball and Morgan Kast and sophomore Mady Axsom. 

King and Ball earned all-conference honors last year.

"We're excited to begin the girls golf season," said Crimson Chargers coach Todd King. "We have both a core of returning players with competitive varsity experience, as well as girls new to playing golf that have put in hard work this summer.

"This being our last season as Elkhart Memorial Chargers the girls are working hard to leave a positive mark in the final year of the program."

Goshen will bring a very young team into its matches this season. Lauren Murphy is the lone senior on the team and only other upperclassmen are juniors McKenna Cripe, Estella Borden and Jenna VanderWey. 

"Lauren has a good mindset and attitude about the game and she doesn't let a bad shot get in her way," said Goshen coach Jenna Pecenka. "McKenna is a strong leader and is willing to go the extra mile to get some practice in on her own.

"Last year, we didn't have too many wins, but we had a lot of career bests and improvements. We have five new freshman joining our team this season. I'm happy with the turnout and the drive of the new players. I'm excited to see our returning players give guidance to our new players."

Penn is looking to claim its 12th straight sectional title. 

It's hard to bet against them with the return of seniors Grace Szklarek and Lyvia Li. Both qualified for the state finals last year. Szklarek has verbally committed to play college golf next year at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Second-year coach Katie Zielinski is counting on Grace's sister – Sydney – to be in the number three spot as a freshman. Rounding out the lineup is sophomore Meghan Mounts, junior Makenna Jurkaites and senior Kate Burnett. 

"I'm really looking forward to this season," said Zielinski. "We're looking forward to improving our overall team score. Our goal is to make it to the state finals as a team this year. 

"We have a big team this year with a total of 13 girls. I have five incoming freshman who all show great potential and have a strong work ethic."

Elkhart Central qualified for the regional last year after placing third at the sectional. 

Returning from that squad for the Blue Blazers are senior Katie Fraser and junior Brooke Watson. 

The most inexperienced team locally is Jimtown, where junior Hanna Skibbe is the lone returning letterwinner. 

"You can always count on Hanna," said Jimtown coach Robert Elli. "She's a team player and were counting on her to be a team leader this year. 

"Just when it seemed that we might not have a golf team we had four incoming freshman that joined the team. They've never played golf before so it has been a learning situation. 

"This is going to be a rebuilding year, emphasizing fundamental skills, rules and playing situations. It's going to be baptism under fire for these new girls. Hopefully, these new girls will be the nucleus of great teams to come.

"It's hard to expect a winning year, but I hope we see improvement in each girl throughout the year."

Fairfield returns five of its six letterwinners from last year's team. 

Among those experienced players back is senior Jalee Nunemaker, who advanced into the regionals last September. Nunemaker, who was an All-Northeast Corner Conference selection last year, missed moving on to state by two strokes. 

"We're looking for her to do some great things this year and really be a leader for our team," said Fairfield coach Brent Nunemaker. 

Fairfield's number two player this season will be senior Hannah Dervin, who made the honorable mention all-conference team a year ago. 

"Last year was a down year for us as far as wins, but we were right there in some of the matches," Brent Nunemaker said. "We had four matches where we lost by less than 10 strokes. We're hoping with another year under each of our players that we can turn some of those close matches into our favor."

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