Experienced ’Cats hope to continue climb up CIML steps

It may take someone a long time to find a more experienced golf team than the Marshalltown girl’s squad this season.

A sport that is typically dominated by juniors and seniors year after year, the Bobcats return 90 percent of their counting scores and five of the six starters from last year’s varsity roster and that gives second-year coach Lucas Johnson a reason to be optimistic.

Finishing 3-0 in the Central Iowa Conference Northern Division a season ago, Johnson and the Bobcats are looking for a repeat title in 2014.

“Our No. 1 goal is to repeat as CIC North champions,” said Johnson. “Those three teams will give us a good competitive level of golf. The team is off to a nice start so far.”

Ashley Harris will be the team’s top golfer for the third consecutive season after tallying a stroke average of 44.5 per nine holes last season. She missed the state tournament by four strokes but could be better than ever this spring after putting in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason.

“She went to numerous camps and to several tournaments, and she is looking to break out this year,” said Johnson. “Her desire and dedication to the game is superb and hopefully the hard work she has put in will pay off for her.”

The next three golfers are all returners from a year. Battling for positions two, three and four on the scorecard, will be seniors Katie Lynch and Madison Sorge as well as junior Niccole Wolken.

Juniors Natalie Kueny and Shelby Brennecke are expected to be the final two varsity players.

Lynch, Sorge and Wolken may spend the entire season shifting back and forth between the second, third and fourth position. All three golfers posted anywhere from a 51.5 to 53.6 stroke average per nine holes last year.

Those three experienced starters also may be a big part of the Bobcats’ climb up the Central Iowa Metropolitan League standings. Johnson thinks that trio needs to average in the 40s for MHS to move up in team races.

“All three have the capability to shoot in the 40s and it will take that to step up in the standings,” said Johnson.

Kueny will likely start in the No. 5 position after shooting just less than a 55 stroke average last year. Brennecke carded an average of 58.7.

The roster goes just nine deep, but Johnson’s top six should maintain their grips on a varsity spot all season long. Senior Tia Vergauwen, junior Kierra Carbajal and freshman Emily Vest are the other three golfers. Carbajal will likely fill in for Lynch while she sits out the first four meets of the year.

While the experience alone won’t win the Bobcats any meets, Johnson feels like the familiarity with the courses and with golfing in inclement weather could help MHS this season.

“We know the holes at almost every course we’ll play on and we know the spots to hit it to,” said Johnson. “This group has experienced all kinds of weather and seen a lot of things in their careers. We will still need to execute, but the experience should be a huge positive and give us a bit of an advantage.”

The thin roster, which includes no sophomores, shouldn’t affect the overall outcome of the season for the Bobcats. Johnson can only play six and score four at a time anyway. And Ottumwa advanced to the state tournament last year with only six total golfers.

The Bobcats, who went undefeated in the CIC Northern Division last year after going 0-3 in 2012, will begin the season with a trip to Willow Creek Golf Course in West Des Moines. The Bobcats take on host West Des Moines Valley starting at 3:30 p.m.

MHS will make its first of three home appearances Thursday when the Bobcats host the Linda Bloom Invitational at 10 a.m. The other two times MHS will be at home will be April 29 against Ames and May 13 against Ankeny Centennial. Both of those duals will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Five teams from the CIML were at the state meet last year. Waukee won the title, while Dowling Catholic was third, Valley fifth, Ottumwa seventh and Southeast Polk eighth.

The last two individual champions – Peyton Minear and Kelsy Shay – also were from Waukee. The Warriors won back-to-back team titles in 2012 and 2013 and were third in 2011 and second in 2010.