GREENFIELD — Tucked away deep behind a thick whispering cornfield just off South Morristown Pike, the New Palestine girls golf team gathered at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield on Monday afternoon to put in their work.
One by one they arrived, trekking down the golf course’s winding path to unload their clubs, stock up on golf balls and head to the fairways.
With only five days until their season opener Saturday in the invite-only Fall Preview at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel, the girls didn’t want to burn much daylight.
After all, expectations can’t tell time, and the Dragons aren’t relying on past accomplishments to slow down the clock.
“It’s definitely a goal to get back to state again,” New Palestine senior Cassie Brooks remarked. “It’s going to be hard since we lost a couple of our seniors, but we’ve been working hard. We’ll see how it goes.”
After winning its first-ever sectional championship and advancing to its first state finals last fall, the New Palestine golf team is coming off its most prolific season in program history.
First, the Dragons dethroned Mt. Vernon as Hancock County champions by shooting a nine-hole school-record 155 to outpace the Marauders by 17 strokes. The title snapped a 10-year drought.
At sectional, New Palestine compiled an 18-hole score of 341, led by three-time sectional champion Abby Poole, who is now a freshman at Huntington University.
The Dragons reached state with a one stroke advantage over Fishers at regional before eventually finishing 12th as a team at Prairie View.
New Palestine delivered, said head coach Greg Greene, who is entering his 12th season. Now, it’s about sustaining and reaching for more.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty big (target),” Greene remarked on the challenges ahead for his team, “but at the same time it’s a good motivator. … It makes you work harder because you know you’re going to be a target. It’s a nice problem to have.”
Returning depth is the most obvious luxury for Greene’s Dragons. Though losing Poole, Bailey Kamp and Sarah Rose to graduation, the team welcomes back seniors Carly Jones and Rooks along with sophomore Mackenzi Black.
All three were all-county golfers while Rooks won the individual championship with a nine-hole score of 36.
Rooks fired a 79 at regional with Black adding a 74 for fifth overall. At state, Black tied for 52nd individually with a 178 over both days — just seven strokes behind Poole, who was 37th.
“I knew Mackenzi would contribute in the top five as a freshman, and she’s played almost every day this summer. And it’s been competitive rounds, too, playing in tournaments,” Greene said. “This is her thing. This is what she likes and makes the most of it. She’s hungry.
“Cassie is very capable of shooting 35 or 36 on her nine-hole scores and breaking 80 in her 18-hole matches,” Greene continued. “Mackenzi, easily, is in that mid-70 range or less. She was even that last year. Carly will hopefully be in that low 80s range to maybe break an 80 as well. We’re going to be pretty solid.”
The key will be filling in the lineup’s two vacant tournament spots.
Junior Payton Hill, who was part of the rotation as a freshman, is competing for one of the two in addition to junior Cassidy Harp and sophomore Laini Harter.
“We have young kids that have been waiting their turn. I know that Cassidy has been playing and getting lessons for two years now, so I’m looking forward to her doing something,” Greene said. “Laini has a lot of athletic ability and a real nice swing. … she ended up hanging out with the boys team as a manager, so she could practice during the spring. I believe it’s helped her.
“Payton obviously has the talent, too. It’s pretty open for those spots, but I have seen those three do a lot in the offseason.”
Black has spent her summer months working with Poole, a tradition the two shared even before she grabbed a varsity spot last year. It has paid dividends and could translate into bigger strides this month, said Greene.
“She gives me pointers here and there,” Black said. “She helps fix my swing. We videotape it and she tries to correct it if we’re on the range. … We definitely expect to do better this year. It’s good that three people are coming back. I think it makes it a little bit easier.”
Hawk’s Tail — the team’s home course — is anything but.
Moving from The Links Golf Club in New Palestine last summer, the terrain at Hawk’s tail improved the Dragons’ overall numbers, which came into play last postseason.
“It probably helped them a little bit more than I thought it would because they had to get better every day at something different than we would have been practicing at the Links,” Green said.
Every day spent on their course, Rooks believes will bring similar results the second time around.
“It’s more challenging than the Links because the greens are a lot smaller and harder to play on. They don’t hold your ball as much like the Links, so it’s definitely helped our short game,” Rooks said. “I’m feeling pretty good about this season.”
Coach: Gregg Greene, 12th season
Home course: Hawk’s Tail, Greenfield
2014: Hancock County Tourney, 1st, 155 (9 holes); Hoosier Heritage Conference, 2nd, 327; Sectional, 1st, 341; Regional 3rd, 324; State 12th, 740 (36 holes).
Leading the way: Mackenzi Black, a sophomore, finished one stroke behind Abby Pool at the regional and seven strokes behind her at state. Cassie Rooks was medalist at county with a 36.
Outlook: Coming off of first ever sectional title, the Dragons return three starters in Cassie Rooks, Mackenzi Black and Carly Jones. Despite losing Abby Poole to graduation experience will benefit the team along with contributions from Payton Hill, Cassidy Harp and Laini Harter.
Teeing off: The Dragons open the season at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Prairie View Golf Club for the Fall Preview in Carmel. The event is invite-only.