FORTVILLE — When setting team goals for the present, Mt. Vernon’s Oliver Mast refers to the past as his guide.
Three years ago, the Marauders were a golf team without a defined ambition, the senior recalls, but that all changed once the group placed second at sectional.
With a clear direction in place his sophomore year, the Marauders aimed at a sectional title and placed third, falling short but still reaching regional once again.
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Last year, the Marauders went all in, Mast remarked, and it almost carried them into new territory — exactly where they hope they end up this spring.
“I think gradually all four years, our goals have grown,” Mast said. “I think our main goal last year was let’s win sectional because we’ve never done that before, and then at regional you’re playing with house money, so you might as well do your best.
“What we did at regional was pretty crazy for us. I don’t think we had any expectations of doing what we did.”
What unfolded last June was beyond anyone’s imagination.
After winning their first-ever team sectional title with a score of 313, the Marauders pared down their total to 309 at The Players Club in Yorktown during regional.
The tally was spearheaded by four individual scores at 80 or less, which nearly pushed the team to the state finals. Yet, the Marauders narrowly missed the state cut by two strokes, placing fourth behind Yorktown’s 307.
“After what we did last year, our goal is to run the table on everything this year,” Mast said. “I think we can even compete to win regional, but for sure, we have nothing less than getting to the state finals in mind.
“If we don’t get there, I don’t want to say it’s a disappointment, but it’s not checking off all of our goals.”
The Marauders are more than equipped to work down their to-do list this spring with Mast and fellow senior Will Dant — both former state qualifiers — atop the lineup.
As a sophomore, Mast shot a 73 at regional to earn a state berth as an individual at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel. The next season, Dant carried the torch as a junior, winning a three-man regional playoff for the final individual state spot at 75 to advance.
Mast tied for 54th at state in 2015, while Dant was 90th through the meet’s two rounds at 159 and 177, respectively.
Motivated to make repeat trips to state this year, the duo spent the winter months training extensively on their games alongside their teammates at the Golf Center of Hamilton County in Noblesville.
Their purpose was direct. This time, they’re determined to reach state as a team.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Oliver and Will, my two seniors, they’re really good leaders. They’ve done a lot over the winter,” first-year Mt. Vernon head coach Tyler Wilson said. “They spent the entire time in the indoor simulator. They were extremely prepared.”
With their college futures set, neither is taking it easy.
Mast, who will attend the University of Indianapolis, and Dant, an Indiana Tech recruit, have embraced their roles as mentors, and they are leading by example.
It showed this past Saturday as the Marauders won the Yorktown Invitational with a 316. Mast was medalist with a 73. Dant was third overall at 76, while junior returner Xavier Dunham shot a 77.
Junior Max Heitman, the team’s fourth returning starter, carded a 95 despite battling illness all week.
“On the bus ride back from the Yorktown Invitational, they were excited that they won, but it was almost like they knew they should have. It was just another event,” Wilson said. “They were confident, but I don’t think they are too cocky.”
If they do get too comfortable, Wilson said, the game always finds a way to ground them. Something he knows well as a former golfer at Oak Hill, where he graduated in 2001.
Wilson, who took over the Mt. Vernon program after the resignation of Caleb Zelencik last season, continued his career in college at Barry University in Miami. He competed for two seasons before graduating in 2005.
“He’s a great guy to be around,” Mast said. “He’s doing a good job. It’s very similar to last year, and we think he’s going to be a great guy for the future. I think we’re going to have a good time this year.
“He’s not letting us sell ourselves short either. He’s going to hold us accountable and take it just as serious as we are.”
Eager to chase down a potential eighth straight Hancock County team title and a repeat run at sectional this season, the Marauders believe experience and depth could propel them to state.
Behind the top four golfers, freshman Elijah Dunham, Xavier’s brother, has seized the fifth spot for now, but sophomore Blake Johnson and senior Drew Richter are pushing for a chance as well.
The friendly competition during practice on their home course of Arrowhead has elevated everyone’s motivation, Wilson said.
The key to achieving their goals, Mast emphasized, will be avoiding not looking too far ahead.
“For myself and Will, this winter was about not placing too much expectation on ourselves. Also, not having that senior letdown where I’ve seen in the past, especially now that we’re both committed to playing in college,” Mast said. “It’s about keeping fresh and motivated, but that won’t be hard because we have a great group of guys. We’re close-knit. We’re really excited.”
Coach: Tyler Wilson
2016 finish: Mt. Vernon won the Hancock County Tournament and placed second at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet. Will Dant shot a 75 at regional and advanced to the state meet via a three-man playoff. The Marauders captured their first-ever sectional team title and were fourth overall at regional, missing the state cut by two strokes.
Key losses: Jacob Ault
Key returnees: Oliver Mast (12), Will Dant (12), Xavier Dunham (11), Max Heitman (11).
Others to Watch: Elijah Dunham (9), Blake Johnson (10), Drew Richter (12).