By Ben Stroup
The Olentangy Liberty boys golf team isn’t the same group that finished sixth at last year’s OHSAA Division I State Championship, but it’s close.
Close as in tight knit — something Patriot coach Ryan Snivley said is a definite plus heading into the 2015 campaign.
“Among the top five that I have, they get along so well,” he said. “Team chemistry is already very well established because they play so much … and play so much together. And when they leave the course, they go out to eat together.”
Returners included senior Cameron McCloskey, a three-year letterman; junior Kyle Mitchell, a two-year starter; and sophomore Trey Rath, who notched his first varsity letter last fall. All three were pivotal parts to last season’s state-qualifying team.
Juniors Ronnie Foth and Jon Flees, who nabbed the fourth and fifth spots during tryouts, will also see plenty of varsity action.
Snivley said the top team goal is to win an OCC crown, something the Patriots have come close to, most recently nabbing runner-up honors in last year’s loaded Central Division, but haven’t nailed down since 2005.
Beyond that, the Patriots wouldn’t mind a return trip to the state showcase.
“Obviously, the guys are putting a lot of pressure on themselves,” the coach said. “But one thing I’ve mentioned to them is it will be more difficult this year. All the other area teams will be gunning for us.
“The talent piece is there. They just need to be on top of their mental games and be respectful of all the other teams. The OCC teams can all be tough on the OCC courses.”
Hayes has struggled in recent years, but first-year coach Jeff Olson, a Delaware resident and club pro at the Golf Club of Dublin, believes his Pacers have the building blocks to get the program back on track.
“We will probably start out slow because we don’t have a lot of guys that play golf full time; most play other sports,” he said. “But I think we’ll be OK once we get back into playing mode. They can all hit the ball, but it takes more than that to score. We just need to put it all together.”
Senior Grant Godfrey, looking to make it back to the state tournament for the first time since he qualified as a sophomore two years ago, is back at the top of the lineup.
“Grant is putting a lot of pressure on himself to play well,” Olson said. “But as long as he lets himself play his game he’ll be fine. He’s hitting longer and stronger than he ever has … I expect big things from him.”
The rest of the lineup includes the likes of David Kelly, Jared Piroska, Sam Midura and Mitch Fanock.
“They’re all very coachable … and they’re better than they think they are,” Olson, who will be assisted by fellow pro John Hague, said. “Each of them can hit the ball well enough to score and compete at the high school level, and having two pros to offer instruction at practice is a great resource for them.”
“It’s been great having Jeff as the new coach,” Godfrey said. “I’ve learned a lot already and I’m going to learn even more as the season goes on.”
The Barons entered the 2015 season with something they lacked last fall: experience.
Four seniors and two juniors headline the group, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. Buckeye Valley won the season opening North Union Invitational, firing a 325 earlier this month at Glenross. They won the MOAC Invitational a week later at Oakhaven, too.
Jake Kehoe, Zach Thomson, Grant Kelly, Cody Free and Nick Hyatt were the scorers that day, and promise to be big-time contributors for the Barons this year. Dan Wright, Nick Baesman, Aaron Miller, Kevin Cooper, Collin Brant, Kyle Ruggles, Jesse Patch and Max Poliseno will also look to contribute at the varsity level.
“It’s almost a group of goofballs,” BV coach Kyle Ellwood said. “But they support each other really well.
“They’re all so different. Jake is a grinder … he will miss more greens than anyone out there, but will find a way to get a low score. Jake, Zach and Grant are all returning, and you can see how experience has helped them.”
The Barons finished third in the MOAC last year, but expect to be at the top this time around.
“We should win it,” Ellwood said of the league, “then the goal for this year is to win our sectional at Oakhaven and have a solid showing at districts.”
The Braves aren’t coming off the type of year they’re accustomed to, finishing sixth in the OCC, but that finish could end up playing a role in what coach Joel Glassburn feels could be a pretty solid season.
“They want to go out and prove themselves to everyone after last year,” Glassburn said. “Last year, we just didn’t preform the way we should have … we didn’t know how to compete.”
That shouldn’t be an issue this time around, though, with plenty of experienced players back in the fold.
“I’ll tell you what,” Glassburn said, “this is the first year in a long time I have quite a few returners. So the experience factor is a plus. They know the routines and I know their games … and I love the fact this crew put in a ton of work over the summer.”
Seniors Jake Gerard, Nick Scott and Ryan Wright have a combined four varsity letters under their belts, while juniors Matthew Homza and Garrett Varanelli have been solid early on. Homza already has two varsity letters to his name while Varanelli was the team’s top performer at the season opening Westerville Central Invitational earlier this month, shooting a 79 at Little Turtle.
Junior Eric Dop and freshmen Cameron Casto and Ben Nash are also expected to crack the top five from time to time.
The Pioneers enter the 2015 season with a ton of momentum. That’s what a 22-4 OCC record the previous year will do for a team.
The bad news, though, is six talented seniors played a huge part in that success — six seniors who were lost to graduation.
“I would like to say we could be 22-4 again this year, but we lost some high talent,” Orange coach Kris Miller said. “We are working our way toward replacing that, though, and 19-22 wins isn’t out of the question. Knowing what I know about this year’s group, we are going to compete … the expectation of success is still there.”
Freshman Alex Cabungcal qualified No. 1 out of tryouts while senior captain Zach Mahon and senior John Mikulec weren’t far behind. Junior Spencer Gifford and sophomore Connor Cummins will also see plenty of time at the varsity level, Miller said.
“I love Alex’s dedication to the game,” the coach said. “Golf is his sport, he is very mature for a freshman and he bounces back from adversity well.
“Zach is a good leader. He keeps the guys loose on the way to the events and is a grinder. I can say that about the team in general … there’s no quit in these guys. John is a quiet, but strong player, and is as even as anyone on the golf course; Spencer has the most varsity experience, is tough on himself, but I like his perseverance; and Connor is in the same mold as John — three under or 13 over and you wouldn’t know the difference.”
With eight returning letterwinners back for business, the Golden Eagles expect to soar as high in the OCC standings as possible this fall.
“We have a lot of returning letterwinners, and some new young and talented golfers,” BW coach Chuck Workman said. “We will have a lot of depth this year, with many players able to score in the 70s.
“We finished tied for third in the OCC last year, and I’m hoping that we can improve upon the success that we had.”
Jake Wilson, a two-year letterman, is the squad’s only senior. Junior Nick Dimitroff returns as another two-year starter while juniors Henry von Hollen, Austin Schone, Ben Saxe, Parker Imertreijs, Trevor Dew and Connor Walzak return after earning their first varsity letters in 2014.
Newcomers included freshmen Zack Herbert, Nate Dimitroff and Caleb Bailey — a trio of up from the BW Middle School team — and sophomores Carson Overbaugh and Bailey Munday.
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.