FORTVILLE — When head coach Mike Miner took over the Mt. Vernon girls golf program three years ago, he knew there was potential.
He also realized the talent pool across Hancock County’s golf landscape was vast. The key was patience, hard work and timing.
This fall, the time was just right to strike, and Miner’s Marauders didn’t miss.
After three straight runner-up finishes at the annual county tournament against rivals Greenfield-Central, twice (2019 and 2020), and New Palestine in 2018, the Marauders at last claimed the team title.
But, that was only the beginning for the eventual 2021 sectional champions.
“We had been building up to that. You could see it. These girls, especially the three seniors, had stayed together since their seventh-grade year, and they started playing well their sophomore year and started winning,” said Miner, the 2021 Daily Reporter Girls Golf Coach of the Year.
“Then, last year, it seemed like we were just a hair short. There was so much disappointment, but this year, all that disappointment went away because they were able to achieve that goal.”
The goals were specific: win county, conference, sectional and shoot sub-350 at regional for a shot at the state meet.
By late September, the Marauders led by seniors Alaina Nugent, Meredith Johnson and Mackenize Miner achieved them all.
“They were tired of being second,” Mike Miner said. “They were second to either New Pal with Annaliese Fox or last year it was Greenfield and Caroline Gibson. They kind of knew this was their year, and I was proud of them because you still have to do it and they did.”
At the county tournament at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield in late August, the Marauders carded a 170, which bested the two-time defending champion Greenfield-Central Cougars by 20 strokes.
Nugent earned medalist honors at county with a 1-over-par 37 after a pair or runner-up placements and a third-place finale in previous years.
All five of the Marauders finished in the top eight, including the top-three spots where Nugent, Johnson and French foreign-exchange student Sophie Amegnigan were one, two, three, respectively, for all-county honors.
“Sophie coming from France didn’t hurt. That was a nice solid four, and then we had a freshman (Isabel VanHeel) that really played well. We had five good scores this year that we could count, which was a lot different than in the past,” Miner said. “It was a special year.”
In mid-September, the Marauders made it historic as they captured their first Hoosier Heritage Conference title since 2003 by a 25-stroke margin over rival Pendleton Heights.
All three seniors earned all-HHC distinctions, including another medalist honor for Nugent, as the Marauders became the favorites to win the program’s third sectional title all time and first since 2013-14.
“They were always used to being the chaser, so now, they weren’t the chaser anymore. They had to live up to that expectation, and they did a good job,” Miner said. “They played in the pouring rain in the sectional, which was horrible. It rained at county as well. We must be a good mudder team, I guess.”
At Hawk’s Tail for sectional in late September, the Marauders fired a 339 to win the championship and also claimed the top-two individual spots with Nugent (75) medalist and Johnson (78) three strokes behind.
The Marauders run ended at regional as a team despite shooting a 349 for fourth overall, but from there the Marauders sent a pair to the IHSAA state finals, a feat not seen since 2016.
“I knew these girls were pretty good, so we had that mindset to keep building and keep getting better every year, every match. We had those goals, and we always set the bench mark of scoring 350 or better on our 18-hole matches and lets keep improving from there,” Miner said. “We did that and unfortunately at regional, 349, we were trying to improve but we just came up a little bit short.”
At state, Nugent, who earned her spot at state by winning a three-person playoff at regional, finished tied for 44th. Johnson placed 85th out of 100 golfers at the state meet.
“I’m glad they got to do it, and I’m glad they got to experience that,” Miner said. “Neither of them played as well as they’d like to, but I think they still had the right attitude. They went in there. They still enjoyed it. They still got a lot out of it and so did the program.”