NEW PALESTINE — The target can’t get much bigger, but the New Palestine girls golf team isn’t complaining.
After sweeping through the 2016 season by winning the Hancock County, Hoosier Heritage Conference and Mt. Vernon Sectional team titles, the Dragons know every school they face this fall will bring their best.
The same, however, goes for New Palestine golf coach Greg Greene’s squad.
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“I reminded them about that in a team meeting last week. We’re in a spot now where everyone expects us to be decent and they want to knock us off,” said Greene, who is entering his 13th season leading the girls and 23rd coaching Dragons golf overall. “There’s not a night off. Every night you have to show up and be ready.”
This summer, the team’s top returners spent a majority of their offseason preparing for the upcoming external pressure.
Led by Dragons’ senior Mackenzi Black, who tied for 37th overall at the 2016 state finals, and sophomore Annaliese Fox, the team will rely on experience, savvy and an infusion of youthful talent this season to keep their championship streaks alive.
New Palestine’s county and conference titles in 2016 marked the program’s second consecutive. The Dragons’ sectional crown was their third straight.
In addition to Black and Fox, New Palestine welcomes back sophomore Izzy Gray, which gives the Dragons a solid 1-2-3 atop the lineup. The promotion of senior Regina Olsen, the team’s sixth golfer last year, and three more contributors behind her, bolsters the team’s depth.
Sophomores Rachel Purnell and Tracy Olsen, Regina’s younger sister, and newcomer Abby Belgin, a freshman, slide in to help offset the loss of graduated seniors Cassidy Harp and Payton Hill.
“We knew when it ended last year we had to get two more ready as quickly as we could,” Greene said. “Our expectations are as high as they have been the past few years. We have the conference, county and sectional titles to defend and a good opportunity to get out of regional, but you never know what can happen.”
With Harp and Hill both posting sub-100 scores at sectional in 2016, the Dragons won the championship with a team tally of 349 over rival Pendleton Heights (373) and Greenfield-Central (412) to advance into the Lapel Regional.
At the HHC meet in September, Fox won the individual conference title by shooting a 78 with Black second at 79. The duo, along with Harp and Hill, finished All-HHC with top-15 scores.
At sectional, Black shot an 85 while Fox fired a 74. Black’s 76 at regional qualified her for the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s state meet at Prairie View Golf Club last October as an individual.
“They were our two low scores generally from the second half of the season on. We’re lucky enough to have them back,” Greene said.
“I expected that (from Fox). I knew she was coming for a while and it was just finally getting that opportunity for her,” Greene said. “She played No. 2 all season, but she was technically our No. 1 average. In the end, though, she had two bad holes at the regional, for her, which was double par, and that kept her from being close enough to advancing.”
The Dragons placed fifth at regional with a 350 as Fox missed the state-cut with an 85. This year, Fox and Black are aiming for a stronger results.
Fox, the 2016 individual county champion, had a productive summer tying for second with a 156 during the Central Junior Masters in July at Old Oakland Golf Club as part of the Indiana Junior Golf Program. She added a fourth-place finish with a 160 at Mystic Hills in Culver while playing in the Junior Tour on June 26.
Black competed in nearly a dozen offseason events, tying for second on the Junior Tour at The Players Club at Woodland Trails on July 11 with a 49. She was sixth in her age group championship at Swan Lake Resort in Plymouth on July 6.
The team’s most seasoned golfer, Black will be called upon to lead the group, a role she’s embracing, Greene said.
“She’s been in that spot even as a sophomore. She picked up and started doing that, so she’s used to it. She pushes herself harder than any kid that I’ve coached,” Greene said. “There is no one that tries harder to get better.”
As a group, the team has committed to continuing the program’s winning tradition with many becoming members at Maple Creek Golf Course in Indianapolis. Their dedication to the process, along with Belgin’s golf pedigree, similar to Fox’s as an freshman a year ago, have the Dragons feeling optimistic.
“If you can make a golf culture, develop one somehow, it can feed itself,” Greene said. “We’ve kind of got a group of parents in here right now where that’s what is happening. The kids want to play and they’re joining a course, so that’s good for us.
“We’re trying to get out against the Cathedrals, who can pull girls from anywhere, and the Hamilton Southeasterns, the Fishers, the Westfields that have two to three times the student population than we do to choose from. We have to outwork them to try to compete with them,” Greene added.
The Dragons open the season Thursday on their home course at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield, the host site of the 2017 county tournament, against Southport at 4 p.m. On Saturday, they will see how they measure up against many of the state’s top programs, participating in the State Preview Meet at Prairie View, the site of this year’s state finals.
“(Prairie View) is a hard course. The more you can play it the better chances you have in scoring, like any course, but with the pressure we have at that particular one, it’s nice to be able to go in a little less pressure environment to play in,” Greene said. “We want to do well, but we’re really in it to have a solid, quality tournament against some other outstanding schools.”