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Woodstock Readies for Postseason Bash

For the first time, Vermont’s high school golf teams are hitting the road to Woodstock.

During the offseason, the Vermont Principals Association’s golf committee agreed to move its state championship day from Middlebury College’s Ralph Myhre Golf Course to Woodstock Country Club. It marks the first time in at least three decades that the tourney will be staged at someplace other than the Ralph.

Getting there will be the challenge.

Ordinarily one of the top teams in Division I, Hartford didn’t qualify for states as a team last spring, nor did any individual Hurricane advance. Upper Valley success lately has been in the small-school divisions, with Mid Vermont Christian and Rivendell finishing 2-3 in Division II last year and Woodstock qualifying as a team in D-II.

All three show the most promise as the Vermont season warms up. But it’s also a smaller scene this year: South Royalton has shut down its golf team with the graduation of Cody McCullough, who capped his four-year career with the Royals by winning the Division III medal last June at states, where he finished second overall. Oxbow also won’t field a team, although it has an individual in the mix.

A capsule look at this season’s teams:

Hartford

Coach: Roy Hathorn (9).

League: Division I, south district.

Last Year: Did not qualify individuals or team for states.

Home Course: Quechee Club.

Returning Letterwinners: Seniors — Zach Temple, Chris Bateman. Juniors — Jeremy McGlone, Jackson Dwyer, Mak Lyford, Michael Follensbee. Sophomores — Mark Rogenski, Zach Davis.

Newcomer: Junior — Jeff Lyford.

Key Losses: Kaitlyn Dodge graduated, leaving Hartford without any girls on this year’s match roster.

Strengths: Being in D-I south means the Canes have only three schools to beat (Rutland, Mount Anthony, Burr & Burton) to grab one of two team slots at states.

Weaknesses: “When you talk about Rutland, who has three or four kids that can break par on any given day … that’s a lot of pressure on the kids before the season starts,” Hathorn said. “You never pencil things in, but I think kids, without even meaning to, have said, ‘We can’t beat Rutland; they’re that strong.’ That leaves them with kind of a burden before the season starts.”

Players to Watch: 1. Zach Temple. The senior fired a 4-under 33 on the front nine at Brandon’s Neshobe Golf Club on Wednesday, signaling he’s ready to take the mantle of team leader. 2. Zak Lyford returns from a successful 2012, medaling in one tournament and losing a second in a playoff.

Etc.: The Quechee Club’s still-evolving recovery from Tropical Storm Irene damage will keep Hartford from hosting any matches this season. Instead, the distances required to reach his D-I counterparts have led Hathorn to schedule fewer competitions, with more 18-hole tourneys for the dates that remain. “If we’re going to drive two hours,” he surmised, “we might as well play 18.”

Toughest Opponents: Rutland.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: It is Hathorn’s hope that by focusing on the mental aspects of golf first, the Hurricanes will benefit later. “I’m hoping to find a way to get each child to play their best without worrying about what external factors are going on,” he said. “If I can help them control their emotions, I think that is our No. 1 goal. For No. 2, it’s as much the mental side, to not worry about what’s going on around us.”

Mid Vermont Christian

Co-Coaches: Gary Ott and Kent Dahlberg (7).

League: Boys — Division III, south district; girls — Division II.

Last Year: Team took program-best second at states, winning playoff over Rivendell.

Home Course: Quechee Club. Unlike Hartford, MVCS plans to host a home match on May 17, assuming Quechee has returned to 36-hole status by then.

Returning Letterwinners: Seniors — Henry Sherman, Tony Peterson. Junior — Austin Sayers. Sophomores — Wyat Sherman, James King. Freshman — Isaac McIntire, Catherine Haas.

Newcomers: Senior — Lukas Klassen. Junior — Maddy Cusack. Sophomore — Liam Cusack.

Key Losses: Sam Burns graduated; exchange student Eric Lee returned to South Korea.

Strengths: The experience gained from two years at states should help, as should the support upperclassmen give to the newcomers.

Weaknesses: “Driver training,” Ott joked … and he doesn’t mean the kind used in the tee box.

Players to Watch: Sayers and the Sherman brothers, all of whom have backstopped back-to-back trips to states and, in some cases, qualified for New Englands as individuals.

Toughest Opponents: Springfield, Rivendell.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: As with last year, the Eagles are strong in the top three positions but will need a fourth to improve quickly if they are to seriously challenge at states. “It’s done wonders for our self-esteem,” Ott said of Mid Vermont’s success on the links. “I think it’s developed a lot of respect for our school from other schools. We’re very well-received.”

Rivendell

Coach: Justin Bonnett (7).

League: Division III, south district.

Last Year: Team claimed third at states, the fifth time in six years that the Raptors have finished that high up the D-III leaderboard.

Home Course: Lake Morey Country Club, Fairlee.

Returning Letterwinners: Juniors — Luke Bell, Josh Marshall. Sophmore — Sam Ivey.

Newcomers: Freshman — Alex Ussler, Ryan Landgraf, Sam Kamel, Jacob Perkins, Zach Gray.

Key Losses: Ian Marshall graduated. Liam Fleming didn’t return.

Strengths: A young roster that’s willing to learn.

Weaknesses: Mental toughness and trusting in their abilities.

Players to Watch: “My two rocks are my co-captains, Josh Marshall and Luke Bell,” Bonnett said. “They are the two leaders of the team.” Bonnett also expects big contributions from freshmen Ryan Landgraf and Sam Kamel: “They’ll be solid as Nos. 3 and 4.”

Toughest Opponents: Mid Vermont Christian, Peoples.

Etc.: With no team of his own, Oxbow junior Chase Andrews will be practicing with the Raptors and competing as an individual at many of their matches. Bonnett would like the VPA to add golf to its member-to-member participation program, and it’s a cause he intends to pursue. Andrews has a job at Lake Morey, where Bonnett is an assistant pro.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: Rivendell has become a regular at states; even without a senior on the roster, Bonnett thinks the Raptors can qualify again. “It’s what we work for all year,” he said. “It’s a goal of ours.”

Windsor

Coach: Richard Vacca (5).

League: Division III, south district.

Last Year: Team missed states; freshman Brian Meagher qualified as an individual.

Home Course: J.P. Larkin Country Club, Windsor.

Returning Letterwinners: Senior — Tucker Gilman. Junior — Simon Shepherd, Nick Witty. Sophomores — Brian Meagher, Jeremy Brooks.

Newcomers: Junior — Hudson Woodward. Sophomores — Josh Spaulding, Josh Carpenter, Zhenya Malikowski, Justin Gee. Freshmen — River Merriam, Zach Simino, Karen San, Katie Green, Teagan Michaud.

Key Losses: None.

Strengths: Gilman’s leadership as captain, Meagher’s experience from states, a promising freshman in Merriam.

Weaknesses: “We need to get out and be consistent,” Vacca said. “They can all hit a good ball, but on a regular basis we need to get on the course and hit balls.”

Players to Watch: Gilman, Meagher, Merriam.

Toughest Opponents: Springfield, Mid Vermont Christian, Woodstock.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: It’s still a bit early to book the Yellowjackets for states, if only because many of their players are new to the sport. However, as Meagher proved last year, an individual success isn’t out of the question. “A lot of them are new, and I’m trying to get them on the course, keep them interested in golf and give them something to look forward to,” Vacca said.

Woodstock

Coach: Jim Gunnare (7).

League: Boys — Division II, south section; girls — Division II.

Last Year: Team qualified for states, but the Wasps lost two golfers to injury or illness on tournament day and didn’t post a team score.

Home Course: Woodstock Country Club.

Returning Letterwinners: Senior — Lauren Mayer. Juniors — Andrew Becker, Aiden Mumford, Carter Pratt, Alex Geschardt. Sophomores — Charlie Kelly, Jake Kelly, Sophia Alik.

Newcomers: Sophomores — Kia Amirkiaee, Molly Jacobs. Freshmen — Andrew Borden, Joe Bianchi, Jack Greene.

Key Losses: Sam Clement graduated.

Strengths: Maturity from the junior core. Given the talent level, Gunnare is considering holding Monday qualifying tournaments to determine his match lineups.

Weaknesses: Short game, the typical early-season New England conundrum. “They’re all a little weak in that department,” Gunnare reported. “They know they can hit it five miles, but the short game is the most important part.”

Players to Watch: Carter Pratt “has been my No. 1 player the last couple of years; I need him to step up,” Gunnare said. “(Andrew) Becker, I need him to step up one more notch. Jake Kelly has tremendous potential.” Also, don’t count Mayer out at girls individuals; she qualified for New Englands as a freshman and sophomore.

Toughest Opponents: Mid Vermont Christian.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: Given that his course will be the host, Gunnare said the Wasps “definitely have to qualify for states, but I don’t seen an issue there. This is going to be fun this year, because I have seven or eight guys I get to choose from. … From that seven or eight I will have five that will be in the high 30s or low 40s.”