FORTVILLE — The end result last June was par for the course.
For a third straight postseason, the Mt. Vernon boys golf team, collectively, advanced to the regional tournament. Once again, the Marauders finished in the top three at Hawk’s Tail in Greenfield; this time third at sectional after taking second the year prior.
Their regional placement at the Players Club, while not quite enough to qualify for the state finals, improved by 10 spots from 17th to seventh with 14 strokes sliced off their team total in 2013-14.
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It was the type of consistency head coach Caleb Zelencik and his Marauders have come to expect — but times have changed along with their goals.
“As far as expectations, they’re pretty high,” Zelencik remarked with the 2015-16 season a little more than two weeks away. “We have a pretty good core group coming back, and we have a couple of pieces we were maybe missing last year that could push us over the top, so I’m pretty excited.”
With the team’s top-three golfers back in juniors Oliver Mast, an individual state qualifier, and Will Dant and senior Jacob Ault, the Marauders’ aspirations are more than lofty. They’re realistic.
First on the team’s to-do list this spring: extend the program’s Hancock County championship streak to seven consecutive.
The next one goes hand-in-hand with the last: win the school’s first sectional title, followed by a state finals appearance, the first in program history.
“Last year’s success showed us what we can do as a team and individually. This year as a team, we’ve put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Mast said. “Last year, we turned in a good sectional score (327) but not our best.
“But our regional score (325) was something we were extremely excited about. It makes us believe we can make a run at state this year for sure.”
Experience, team chemistry and depth are the primary reasons for their optimism.
Six deep at the varsity level, sophomores Xavier Dunham, a talented move-in from Guerin Catholic, Max Heitman and Andrew Roemdke are projected to play key roles in the starting five.
Year-round preparation has the group focused and confident.
This winter the team routinely gathered at the Golf Center of Hamilton County in Noblesville where Mast works. There they trained with instructors to sharpen their swings and take advantage of the facilities PGA simulators and analytics.
“They’re up there most nights, working on their swings at least once a week,” Zelencik said. “They’ve really bought into the team concept. They want to win some championships.”
No more than Mast, who tied for 54th at state last season.
As a freshman, Mast won medalist at sectional, shooting a 71. As a sophomore, he tied for medalist at both sectional and regional before losing in tiebreakers with scores of 74 and 73, respectively.
The IPFW commit clearly has individual ambition, but his teammates are the priority, he said.
“Everything I’ve heard from him this year has been about the team. I know he wants to get back to state, but more importantly, he wants the team to get back to state,” Zelencik emphasized. “He’s told me and the other guys that. His focus is on the team because he knows we have a really good shot at getting to that point.”
The biggest hurdle standing in their way remains New Castle, which has won the sectional team title three consecutive years.
In 2013-14, the Marauders came in seven strokes behind the Trojans. Last season, New Castle used three individual scores in the 70s and an 11-stroke cushion at 313 to push past runner-up Shelbyville. They were 14 better than Mt. Vernon.
This year, Zelencik wouldn’t be surprised to see his team match the Trojans, if not trump them with a quartet of 70s.
“Certainly when Center Grove, Greenwood and Franklin were in our sectional, it was difficult to compete and advance, and then when they moved out (three years ago), we knew there was a shot, but then New Castle got really, really good,” Zelencik said. “I think with the talent we have, we’re going to be not only competitive but as good as New Castle.
“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to have three rounds in the 70s. I think we have the potential to be that good.”
It all starts with the right mindset, Zelencik noted, and their approach, starting on with the season opener on April 9 at the Yorktown Invitational.
“I know their excited, and they wan to win that trophy when it comes to the state tournament, but I’m looking at everything along the way. That’s where we build, get better,” the coach said. “One of the things I’m going to preach this year is we have to play aggressively. Not aggressive where we’re trying to hit shots we can’t, it’s picking the shot you want to hit and committing to it.
“That’s the kind of mindset I want them to have. It’s a quiet aggressiveness.”
Team: Mt. Vernon
Head Coach: Caleb Zelencik, seventh season
2014-15 results: First at Hancock County, third at Greenfield-Central Sectional
2015-16 projected lineup
Oliver Mast (11)
Will Dant (11)
Jacob Ault (12)
Xavier Dunham (10)
Max Heitman (10)
Andrew Roemdke (10)
Other key contributors: Dixon Tierney (12), Drew Richter (11).
April 9: at Yorktown Invitational, 11 a.m.
April 13: at Lapel, 4:30 p.m.
April 16: at Center Grove, 1 p.m.
April 21: vs. Pendleton Heights, 4:30 p.m.
April 23: Mt. Vernon Invitational, 10 a.m.
April 25: at Greenfield-Central, 4:30 p.m.
April 27: vs. Sheridan, 4:30 p.m.
May 2: at New Palestine, 4:30 p.m.
May 4: at Triton Central, 4:30 p.m.
May 7: at Batesville Invitational, 9 a.m.
May 9: vs. Rushville, 5:30 p.m.
May 11: at Fishers, 4:30 p.m.
May 13: at Shelbyville, 5 p.m.
May 14: Hoosier Heritage Conference at Greenfield-Central, 1 p.m.
May 25: vs. Daleville and Frankton, 4:30 p.m.
June 2: Hancock County at Greenfield-Central, 4:30 p.m.