CHARLOTTESVILLE — Most coaches would be concerned after losing four varsity starters over the course of one year. Not Joe Patton.
Entering his second season leading the Eastern Hancock girls golf team, Patton is optimistic — for the present and especially the future.
“We had five girls last year. Three were seniors and there was a foreign exchange student, who is now gone,” Patton said. “But I’m pretty excited about this group this year. We have three sophomores and two freshmen. A couple of them have played golf, but from the few workouts and practices we’ve had, I’m pretty encouraged. There’s a lot of potential.”
Unlike years past, there is also depth on the team, running one through seven for 2017 without a single senior.
The key holdover from 2016’s seven-win campaign is sophomore Lucy Cochard, who fired the team’s second-best sectional score at 116 as a freshman.
Cochard tied for first on the team during the Hancock County Tournament with graduated senior Abby Fout at 53 and averaged 59.2 during nine-hole matches.
“From what I’ve seen from her these past couple of workouts, she’s hitting the ball really well. She’s even better than she was last year,” Patton said.
Behind Cochard, the team’s projected No. 1 golfer, will be sophomore Daly Pelger at No. 2 and freshman Chloe O’Neal at No. 3. O’Neal, who is entering high school as a multi-sport athlete, splits her summer with golf and basketball.
Freshman Isabella Parker is penciled in as the team’s fourth golfer after cutting her teeth on the course during her junior high school career. The Royals’ fifth golfer will be Joseline Duncan, a sophomore. Juniors Hailey Lambert and Kirsten Cavaletto will also contribute at the varsity level.
“We had a call out in the spring and we actually had 10 or 11 girls signup initially. Some decided they weren’t going to play, but we do have two others to give us depth. They have potential,” Patton said. “It’s like I don’t want to be too excited this year. I just want them to enjoy it, have fun and to learn. And then within a couple of years, I think this group will be really good for the size of the school they’re coming from.”
Last year, the Royals 7-15 record marked the best the program has had since going 7-7 in 2014 under former head coach Chelsie Kelley. In 2015, the team won two matches.
As members of the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference this fall, the Royals have added motivation to improve on their record while developing as a group.
“The goal is to go 50-50 in our dual matches, and I would hope we can finish in the top half of the (Mid-Eastern Conference) this year,” Patton said. “In the county, our goal is to be at least third.”
The program’s last conference-winning season was in 2001 under former coach Blake Heim as the team went 11-6, which remains the most wins posted by the Royals in 17 years.
In a few years, Patton believes the modern-day Royals could challenge that mark.
“When those sophomores become seniors, down the line, I think this group has the potential to really be good, if they keep working at it,” Patton said. “They all seem interested in it. They all listen, ask questions and try to go out and do what they’re asked to do. It’s a real good group.”