By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — With the division’s Player of the Year and a host of other returners from last year’s Greater Western Ohio Conference North champion Trojans coming back, things look good for the Troy girls golf team.
And with a large contingent of young talent — enough for a full junior varsity team — the future isn’t looking too shabby, either.
The Troy Trojans boast a strong veteran core, a couple of potential stars at the top and a mix of youth and experience the rest of the way up and down the lineup entering the fall season of 2014, leaving second-year coach Tom Mercer excited about the team’s potential for the coming year and beyond.
“Last year was a learning experience,” Mercer said. “We did really well, and we have several girls back off of that team.
“We’ve got 12 girls out this year — enough for six on varsity and six on JV. All 12 girls will get a chance to play quite a bit. We’re looking forward to a good year.”
If last year was a learning experience, the Trojans made the most of those lessons by the end of that season. The Trojans went 3-0 in head-to-head play in the GWOC North, winning both the preseason and postseason GWOC tournaments — even if Greenville improved over the course of the season enough to earn a draw at the postseason tournament. Which means if the Trojans want to defend their title, they’ll have to fight and improve the same way they did last season.
“Greenville did really well last year,” Mercer said. “And Butler is always a challenge. Piqua is still developing its program, but their coach is doing good things over there. It’ll be tough, and we’ll have to play well to win it again.”
The Trojans have solid senior leadership to help them along the way, though, in Caroline Elsass-Smith and Caitlin Dowling. Elsass-Smith was the North’s Player of the Year last season, and both are four-year varsity players.
Also back are juniors Ali Helman and LeeAnn Black, and senior Rainey Rohlfs is in her second year in the program but came on strong at season’s end last year.
“Five of our six starters have varsity experience, and most of them have a lot of it,” Mercer said. “That’s always helpful.”
Also out this year are juniors Hallie Brubaker and McKenzie Pruitt, who both played JV last year and have been in the program since they were freshmen, as well as first-year junior Hannah Wright, who has played well in the early practices and scrimmages. Also out for the team are juniors Natalie and Melanie Henson and Brooke Beeler and sophomore Hope Jackson.
“We could end up seeing a rotation for that sixth varsity spot this year, which is a good thing,” Mercer said. “We’ve got a nice nucleus of girls to work with, and we’re very fortunate. I can’t begin to say how nice it is to have such a great group of girls that will represent the school and community well.”
And after last season’s success, the Trojans have beefed up their non-league schedule to better prepare the team for the postseason. But things all get going today at Echo Hills with the Covington Buccs Girls Invitational.
“The Covington Invitational is a good test, a way to measure where we are at this point in time. And then the preseason GWOC is Friday, which goes toward deciding the division champion,” Mercer said. “We’ve toughened up our schedule with teams like Chaminade Julienne, Alter, Springfield Shawnee — and even Tippecanoe. We haven’t played them for the last couple years., and they’re a great program. It’ll be really good competition for us. We’ll also play at some different and challenging courses that the girls may not have seen often, which I think will be a nice test.”
This will be a different kind of season for the Tippecanoe Red Devils — the first time in seven years that a “Murray” hasn’t been on the roster.
But while perennial individual state contenders Laura and Lindsey Murray took turns leading the team to the state tournament and have both now graduated, that doesn’t mean the Devils are to be taken lightly. Far from it, in fact.
Back for Tippecanoe are four All-Central Buckeye Conference players that all had their scores count toward the fifth-place team finish in the Division II state tournament. Senior Erika Brownlee and juniors Sammie Rowland, Tori Merrick and Ally Chitwood will lead the way, with first-year players Emily Doll, a junior, and freshmen Taylor Hudson, Lydia Stueue and Kristen Landis.
“On paper, it should be a really good year,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Murray said. “All four returning players are capable of shooting 85 or lower. The players feel like they can win the league and return to state. The team will need to develop a fifth score that is solid during the year and get over the loss of the Xavier-bound state runner-up from last year, Lindsey Murray.”
* Miami East
Miami East will be rebuilding this season with only a pair of returning players, but the younger players are ready to learn and improve throughout the season.
Juniors Kiera Fellers and Meghan Petit are the only returners from last year’s Vikings, and coach Bruce Vanover will be leaning on them to help the newer players along.
“(Fellers and Petit) will provide good leadership for the younger and more inexperienced members of the team,” Vanover said. “They’ve worked hard during the offseason and are ready to lead the team into the season.
“With only two returning players, this year’s team will be young — but they’re eager to learn. The newcomers are athletic and show signs of getting better daily. It will be fun watching the team compete and continue to improve during the season.”
Contact Josh Brown at 552-2132 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.