PENDLETON — The pressure is finally off, and it showed as the Mt. Vernon girls golf team assembled near the pro shop after nine holes against rival Pendleton Heights on Tuesday evening.
Rehashing their outing at Fall Creek Golf Club in Pendleton with coach Caleb Zelencik, last year’s frustration was replaced by lighthearted conversations.
With six players on their roster — two seniors and four freshman — compared to only four a year ago, the Marauders were at ease, winning 179-183 to open their season.
“It’s a really weird dynamic with two seniors and four freshmen, but they’re already getting along and bonding. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun this year,” Zelencik said. “I told them to have fun today, do your best and what we do, we do. I think they all really kept their emotions in check and just played to play. It’s an easy game when you play to have fun.”
The 2014 season was anything but as the Marauders battled the stress of playing from behind nearly every time they competed. With the bare minimum players to post a team score, Mt. Vernon watched both its reigns as Hancock County and sectional champions come to an end.
Prior to surrendering both titles to New Palestine, which placed 12th at state, Mt. Vernon had won both back-to-back. Instead, they had to settle for runner-up at county and fifth at sectional.
“It was just a lot of extra pressure, and they made those comments at the end of the season last year. They felt it, and they knew their score had to count,” Zelencik said.
“Obviously, their scores are going to count again because of their ability, but having that knowledge that someone has your back is nice.”
Against the Pendleton Heights Arabians, the “newbies” delivered.
Freshman Charli True posted the match’s best score at 1-under-par 35. Senior Molly Yee, a three-time all-county finisher, followed with a 39. Senior Briley Wills shot a 41.
Freshmen Savannah McKemie finished with a 64 while sisters Ava and Lily Hampton were at 71 and 70, respectively.
True birdied three holes and double bogeyed one, but she consistently put herself in position to par with her long and powerful drives.
“The freshmen are pretty good. They all can play, and they will improve a lot,” Yee said.
“Charli is probably the longest hitter I’ve ever seen.”
Yee stayed at par on six holes just missing a few birdies on the greens, but she was pleased with her first outing of the year.
A regional qualifier along with Wills last postseason, Yee was part of both of the Marauders’ sectional championship teams and was third at county as a junior overall. As a senior, she is working to become a state qualifier for the first time.
“She’s definitely put the time and the work in and has the ability. It’s just putting it all together at the right time,” Zelencik said. “The goal is to have her ready to play when it counts in the sectional and the regional.
“My goal is to keep her grounded, focused on the task at hand as opposed to what could happen or what’s coming up. She has to stay in the moment and be successful in the moment.”
Unlike before, she and Wills can now zero in on helping the team as leaders as opposed to carrying it with True supplying the Marauders with a strong presence in the top three.
“Any one of those three is capable of putting in a really nice score,” Zelencik said. “It’s nice to have a freshman push us and lead us like she did today. And it does take pressure off Molly, and it builds in that competition within the team.
“They’re going to push each other because each one of them want to be the best. I like that friendly competition. I want them to push each other and realize it’s all about the team.”
According to Marauders, it will take a group effort to reclaim the titles they once had — especially with New Palestine remaining the favorite to potentially repeat.
“Until we can get the crown back, it’s still New Palestine’s,” Zelencik said.
“It’s an uphill battle, and they’re certainly talented at the top of their lineup. They’re a lot like us. They’re top three are known commodities and really solid, but they still need that fourth score.
“It’s going to be tough. I love the competition against New Pal. I love their team and their coach. They’re fun to go against, but I want to beat them. That’s a ways down the road, though. We’ll get there when we get there.”
Coach: Caleb Zelencik, 10th season
Home course: Old Oakland, Indianapolis
2014: Hancock County Tourney, 2nd, 172 (9 holes); Hoosier Heritage Conference, 4th, 371; Sectional, 5th, 383.
Leading the way: Seniors Briley Wills and Molly Yee both both return as regional qualifiers. Yee was the top individual to advance without a team at sectional, shooting an 85 at Old Oakland.
Outlook: After winning back-to-back sectional championships in 2012 and 2013, the Marauders dropped to sixth last year, their lowest finish since 2007. They only had four girls on last year’s roster, but this fall they welcome four freshmen in Charli True, Savannah McKemie and siblings Ava and Lily Hampton.
Teeing off: The Marauders beat conference rival Pendleton Heights 179-183 to open the season on Tuesday. True led the Marauders with a nine-hole score of 35.
Mt. Vernon 179, Pendleton Heights 183
at Fall Creek Golf Club
Top golfer: Charli True, Mt. Vernon (35)
Mt. Vernon: Molly Yee 39, Charli True 35, Briley Wills 41, Savannah Mckemie 64, Ava Hampton 71, Lily Hampton 71.
Pendleton Heights: Jessy Meyer 39, Clarie Patishall 49, Addison Farrar 47, Megan Simmons 48, Kirsten Maxwell 54, Courtney Dawson 58.