By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — New Troy girls golf coach Matt Wibbeler has been getting a crash course in Miami County golf.
Fortunately for him, his Trojans know the ropes.
Seven seniors will make up the Troy girls golf team this season, and even after the graduation of their two top players from the past four years and with this being Wibbeler’s first year coaching golf, the importance that kind of veteran leadership is something that just cannot be underestimated.
“Oh, it’s helped a lot,” Wibbeler said. “The girls have been giving me some idea of what to expect at every turn. It’s been really nice.”
Wibbeler, a softball coach from St. Marys, was always an avid golfer himself, so when the chance came to coach the sport, he jumped at it.
“I coached softball for 12 years in St. Marys, and I played golf in high school,” Wibbeler said. “I wanted to get back into coaching and being more active in the school, and golf was just a natural fit. I hadn’t coached in a couple years, and I’ve always loved playing the sport my entire life. Jumping right back into softball would have been too much, I think, so when the opportunity came to coach golf, I knew I had to take advantage.”
The situation couldn’t have been better, either, joining a veteran group of girls that already know what to expect.
“We’ve got seven seniors this year — LeeAnn Black, Ali Helman, Melanie and Natalie Henson, Mackenzie Pruitt, Hannah Wright and Brooke Beeler — and all seven will be battling for varsity spots,” Wibbeler said. “We’ll have our top four that’s in all the varsity matches, and then the other three will probably rotate in depending on who’s playing well that week.”
In the offseason, Troy graduated Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division Player of the Year Caitlin Dowling and fellow first teamer Caroline Elsass-Smith, two of the top three golfers in the last year based on nine-hole average. But Helman and Black were fourth and sixth, respectively, with Wright (eighth), Natalie Henson (ninth) and Pruitt (12th) not far behind.
“We definitely have two seniors, Black and Helman, that have played a lot this summer,” Wibbeler said. “They’ve been shooting our lowest scores so far, too. They saw how Caitlin and Caroline excelled, and they’ve set goals to play as well as them. They saw what it takes to be competitive the way they were.”
In fact, it’s been the girls who have been prepping Wibbeler for this week’s activities — especially since, though Aug. 1 was the first official day of coaching, Monday was the first day he truly had the whole team together.
“They told me that, when we go to our scrimmage hosted by Covington at Echo Hills on Wednesday, that it’s the Pink Out,” he said with a laugh. “I told them that that wasn’t anywhere in the emails leading up to it, and they just said ‘trust us. It always is the Pink Out.’ And then, with the preseason GWOC coming up Friday, they told me not to be surprised if start an hour later than the tee time we were given, since the boys play before us. It’s been really nice.”
It will help the team throughout the season, too.
“Half of these girls played in every varsity match last year, and the rest saw time, too,” Wibbeler said. “They know what to expect when we go to all these courses on our schedule.”
As for the team’s projected finish in the GWOC North — which the Trojans won last year — Wibbeler wants to wait and see what everyone else in the league has before making any predictions.
“Looking back at the records, we’ve always done pretty well against the teams we play in the North,” he said. “I don’t know a lot about what to expect there, but we’ll know more after Friday’s preseason GWOC tournament.”
Troy plays at Covington’s preseason Pink Out tournament today at Echo Hills before traveling to Beechwood Friday for the pre-GWOC.
Tippecanoe’s girls golf team returns six of its top seven scorers from last year’s team that finished sixth at the Division II state tournament — and the Red Devils will need every bit of it, as a new OHSAA ruling will bump the them up to D-I this season.
“The challenge for the team is to return to the state tournament for the third straight year,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Murray said. “The task was made slightly more difficult, as the new student count — the OHSAA decided for the first time to count home school students — and those 14 that were added bumped us up to the D-I tournament.”
Tippecanoe welcomes back four seniors — Ally Chitwood, Emily Doll, Tori Merrick and Sammie Rowland. Chitwood, Merrick and Rowland will all be four-year golfers, while Doll is in her second year. Merrick averaged 43, Chitwood 44 and Rowland 45 during last season. Two sophomores also return in Taylor Hudson and Lydia Steuve, both of which played at last year’s state tournament.
“Overall, though, it should be a great year for the team,” Murray said. “The expectation to have a great season remain.”
* Miami East
Last season, the Vikings only brought back two returning golfers from the previous season.
This year, things are a bit different.
Miami East — which won last year’s Cross County Conference tournament and finished fifth in the sectional despite its relative lack of experience at the time — returns most of that team, including one senior district qualifier and plenty more solid golfers that now have a full year of experience under their belts.
Back to lead the way are seniors Megan Pettit, Kiera Fellers and Megan Thompson, as well as junior Maggie Bergman and sophomore Haley Howard. Pettit qualified for last year’s district tournament, while Fellers and Bergman shined during the CCC tournament. Also vying for varsity time will be sophomores Emily Rowley, Kathleena Braun and Carynne Gross — and five freshman joining the program will help the team field a JV squad for the first time in years, as well.
“This year’s team is looking to improve on its 12-7 record for last year, and it’d be nice to win a few more non-league matches,” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “This is a solid goal because we’ll be playing a very strong non-league schedule. We’re hoping to repeat as CCC tournament champions, as well as improve on our sectional finish. We’d really like to qualify for districts as a team this year.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.