NEW PALESTINE — Blake Barnette finally broke through. This season, however, the senior hopes he is not alone.
Coming off an individual regional appearance as a junior, Barnette will help lead an experienced group of golfers at New Palestine this season. And with a talented freshman in the mix for one of the team’s top spots, the Dragons should see plenty of competition each day in practice.
“Working towards the end of the season,” according to head coach Gregg Greene, New Palestine is preparing to advance more than just one individual past the sectional.
Barnette, who carded an 80 at the Greenfield-Central Sectional a year ago, will be joined by fellow seniors Nick Lyon and Lucas Swanson and junior Elijah Domogala.
Story continues below gallery
“I would expect going into the season that our four returnees would be in the mix for the top spots,” Greene said. “We also have an incoming freshman, Quinn Dobbins, who is really good, and we expect him to push for No. 1. That is the kind of game he has; he has been in our system.
“We just want to work on something each day to get better.”
Barnette specifically has spent the past sixth months fine tuning his game with golf instructor Beau Bricker, who played professionally for six years. As a junior, Barnette shot an 85 at the Hancock County meet to help the Dragons finish second overall. After moving past the sectional, he scored an 83 at the Muncie Central Regional. The fifth golfer to advance to state without a team carded a 75.
“I expect to qualify for a top-five spot in the county and also in the sectional,” Barnette said. “I want to make it out of the regional and play well at state.”
Added Greene, who has witnessed Barnette’s dedication to the game: “(Barnette) has done a lot to improve and wants to take some ownership of the younger guys.”
As a team, New Palestine was 11 strokes away from advancing to the regional last season, finishing fourth behind Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Shelbyville. If the Dragons hope to break through, Lyon, Swanson and Domogala will be needed more than ever. All three, including Barnette, shot the lowest round on the team at least once last year.
“My teammates always push me and help me play my best,” Barnette said.
Lyon recorded an 88 at the sectional last season and led New Palestine at the county meet with a round of 84. Swanson, who also plays football, shot a 105 at the sectional, while Domogala finished with a 92. Greene said Swanson shot one of the lowest rounds of anyone last season and Domogala led the team with a 42 against Knightstown — his first varsity medalist honor.
“Nick worked at the golf course, so I know he has played (over the offseason),” Greene said. “And Lucas is just a phenomenal athlete and is already striking the ball well this year. For Elijah, we are working on his swing (mechanics) a little. He has been doing that to improve.”
Greene noted that the HHC meet will be played in New Castle this season, where the girls’ conference was held in the fall. New Palestine was seventh overall at the conference meet last year at Bear Chase in Shelbyville. New Castle and Mt. Vernon were first and second, respectively.
“(New Castle Country Club) is not that hard of a course, our girls played it really well three of the four times we’ve been there,” Greene said. “You can get yourself into problems if you hit too long.”
Playing at Hawk’s Tail in Greenfield, Greene added, has given the Dragons a challenging course, with tricky, fast greens, that will help prepare the team for the state tournament. He also said, despite having a group of experienced golfers at the top of his lineup, that the rest of the team, which is 14 players deep, is rather young. Getting to know their home course is currently their main focus.
“We have a lot of young guys we are looking to develop,” Greene said. “Our biggest thing is to learn the course. We are going to play a lot matches here, and they need to get comfortable. They are used to playing at The Links (in New Palestine) and comparable courses. (Hawk’s Tail) has its flavor and own challenges.
“From there, I have the same goals and plans as I do for the girls team. We work on our scoring clubs first every day regardless, and then we go out and play and correct things we need to work on specifically from that round.”
The Dragons will open their season Saturday at Yorktown. The Hancock County meet will take place May 2 at Hawk’s Tail with the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet scheduled for May 13.
Coach: Gregg Greene
2016 finish: New Palestine finished second at the Hancock County meet and seventh at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet. Blake Barnette shot an 80 to advance to regional action as the team finished fourth overall at the Greenfield-Central Sectional.
Key losses: Evan Rejer
Key returnees: Nick Lyon (12), Blake Barnette (12), Lucas Swanson (12), Elijah Domogala (11)
Newcomers: Quinn Dobbins (9)