Western’s women’s golf team has an ace in the hole to start the season. The Panthers will need it because they have new challenges to face. The season started this week with a hefty slate of 18-hole tournaments before school starts for most programs.

The Panther program is returning three varsity regulars this season after reaching the state finals for the second straight year, but has only five players in the program. And down the road, if the Panthers, three-time defending section champions, make it through this fall’s section, some state heavyweights would have to wait in the regional round, which will make the road to the state more difficult.

Back in the starting five are junior Elizabeth Mercer and seniors Ava Williamson and Natalie Nutt. Western finished 12th at the state meet last year and Mercer led, taking 31st individually.

“These three have made the state final two years in a row,” West coach Steve Hoppes said. “These three know they can play, especially Mercer.”

Mercer is a two-time all-state player and the reigning two-time section medalist.

The Panther ace put on an impressive opening week for the new season. She started with a pair of 73s that earned her two top-four finishes in tournaments at Tipton and Lafayette Jeff. Then she was medalist at the West Lafayette and Benton Central Invitationals with 75 rpm. And she closed the week with a 77 that placed her in 10th place in the prestigious State Preview at Prairie View GC

“She’s playing really well right now,” Hoppes said. “She put in a lot of work over the summer and it paid off.”

The team is completed by juniors Jyllian Knolinski and Gracie Burns. Knolinski was on the schedule last season while Burns is new.

“We just have to find a fourth score,” Hoppes said. “The Three Scores [Mercer, Williamson and Nutt] I’ll be fine, especially our #1, she’s one of the best players in the state to be honest with you. Jyllian or Gracie must do their best. That’s what we hope. »

The Panthers aim to reach the state again, but the new roster changes the path. There are six regions instead of five, with the top three teams from each region still reaching the state, but now only two individuals advance from each region instead of five. And the new regional grouping includes the northern suburbs of Indianapolis, including two teams that placed in the top five at the state last year.

“Our regional now has Carmel and Westfield, so 1 and 2 [at the regional] is given. This third place, who knows? said Hoppe. “They know how difficult it will be to get to the state.

“Elizabeth, if we can’t go [as a team] we’re going to get her out as an individual. She would like the team to go there. The team went with her twice. But if she has to go alone, I guarantee the other girls will be there watching.

Here are the looks at the other Howard County teams.

NORTH WEST

The Tigers have four regulars returning from a regional team and 10 players absent from the program, but will have to compensate for the graduation of Audrey Koetter, who reached the state last season as a senior.

Seniors Jocelyn Smith, Audrey Leicht and Maranda Padfield and second-year Berkley Wray return to the roster. At the start of the season, Smith is the No. 1 player, Wray is the No. 2, Audrey Leicht is the No. 3, Padfield is the No. 4, and second Mia Shoaff is the No. 5, although he there is flexibility with who places in spots 3, 4 and 5.

Seniors Cadence Bergstrom and Katie Roegner, junior Breanne Applegate and freshmen Olivia Locke and Tessa Leicht are also on the team.

“Right now we have a few of our players on vacation,” NW coach Kurt Koetter said. School starts on Tuesday. “They will be here by Monday. One of them is a returning college player, so she should consolidate our five once back. I think we will be competitive in our region.

The Tigers jumped into the season with a series of tournaments and Koetter believes the less experienced Tigers will benefit from jumping straight into the season. He has hopes of fighting at the end of the season.

Koetter listed the team’s goals as follows: “to compete in the conference, and I would like to get out of the section and move on to regionals.

“I’m ready for the girls to take care of it, I’m excited for the season. Things are looking pretty good [home course] Green Acres right now. I’m excited about this.

KOKOMO

The Wildkats are returning most of their squad from last season.

“We suffered a big loss after losing our No. 2 player from last season, [2022 graduate] Layla Andrysiak,” coach Kylie Kern said. “We are happy to have welcomed a new member to our team and we are working harder than ever. The team worked together and spent time with each other on and off the course. We have created quite a close bond. The girls practiced their game and participated in several summer tournaments this year. I look forward to seeing the growth we have achieved over the past year.

The returning players are led by senior Lizzy Lytle, who became a solid No. 1 player last season. His highlights were winning the North Central Conference individual title and qualifying as an individual for the region.

“Lizzy Lytle looks strong this year. She competed in statewide tournaments this summer and placed well. I’m thrilled to see her finish her senior year strong,” Kern said.

The Kats also return senior Kamryn Hahn, juniors Brileigh Quillen-Popejoy and Matilda Stout and sophomore and Sam McClelland. Junior Lizzie Hunter is new to the team

“Hopefully we come out of this season with a good mental game,” Kern said. “Over the past two years of training this group, we have fought battles along the way. I hope and believe that this year we can persevere and overcome any obstacle that comes our way.

Kern is looking for the Kats to be competitive in NCC and sectional competition. Last year, Kokomo finished seventh in the conference and sixth in the section.

“Last year Lizzy Lytle won the NCC title and our girls played hard. We come into this year’s NCC with more confidence after familiarizing ourselves with the course. get out [as one of the top three teams]. We’ve always had close competition with our surrounding county schools,” she said.

IS

New Eastern coach Michael Lamb has a core of veteran players from which to build his roster.

The Comets reunite with seniors Alexis Maurer and Macie Davidson, junior Jenna Hendricks and second Cora Bartrum. They helped the Comets take sixth place in last year’s section. Bartrum shot an 89 and qualified as an individual for the regional. She was the first player from the East to reach a regional since 2011.

“Our returning players are all looking pretty good, about what we expected. Our seniors are showing pretty good leadership, so we’re looking forward to working with them and seeing where the season goes,” Lamb said.

Freshmen Teegan Bedwell, Alaina Schemehorn and Claire Wavra complete the list.

“Our three freshmen are all pretty much the same [skill-wise]”, Lamb said. “They’ll be thrown into the mix with college games and then obviously JV games.

Lamb, who coaches the Eastern men’s team in the spring, has stated his goal of winning the Hoosier Heartland Conference title.

“I really think it’s within their potential,” he said.

Eastern opened against Madison-Grant on Wednesday. The Comets won the match against the incomplete Argylls. Maurer was a medalist.

TAILOR

Taylor’s new coach, Kris Dill, has two players – seniors Miranda Saldana and Ayden Mills.

“Miranda has the ability to be pretty good. She plays softball and volleyball. She has a really good swing and she makes solid contact. It’s really about playing and training for her, just to record the time on the course,” Dill said. “Ayden, it’s also her first time playing, and she had no foundation for her swing, so she’s learning.”

As Taylor’s baseball coach, Dill worked to rebuild a program. It takes the same approach for the women’s golf program.

“We’re just trying to get the program in place and make it work,” he said. “Our boys’ golf coach, Jon Binder, is the college coach and he does a great job. He released a bunch of kids last spring. We plan over the next few years to increase the numbers, much like I did with baseball. We want to involve children. From there, you can have a chance to develop children.

“We are not looking to win tournaments or medals yet. We want Miranda and Ayden to progress, improve and keep the program afloat.