Smock Golf Course has served as the graveyard for many a top girls high school golf team in recent years.
With as many as half of the state’s top 20 teams competing for three state finals berths, the Roncalli Regional was the poster child for IHSAA postseason realignment; multiple top-10 teams routinely got sent home, only to see squads who were 50 or 100 strokes worse competing at state the following weekend.
Perhaps no school knows that pain more than Franklin, which finished fourth at Smock four times in a row before placing fifth last fall. Multiple seasons ranked in the state’s top 10, but zero state appearances as a team (three different Grizzly Cub individuals advanced during that stretch, with Ava Ray finishing third at Prairie View in 2021). Center Grove’s girls have also been left on the outside looking in at Smock after top-10 regular seasons.
So when the IHSAA changed up the alignments for this fall, going from five regionals to six and shifting alignments to make far more geographic sense, it was welcome news for Johnson County’s top teams. Sure, there will still be plenty of tough competition in the newly crafted regional that will be played at the Legends on Sept. 24; Columbus North, for example, is usually a formidable foe. But it still won’t be as daunting a task as surviving the field at Smock, which included such perennial powers as Carmel, Guerin Catholic, Westfield and Zionsville.
“Obviously you have to play, but I think it certainly gives us a better chance to advance,” Franklin co-coach Ted Bishop said. “It really does kind of change the message that we as coaches give our team. In the past, with the girls in particular, we started talking the last week of the regular season, particularly to our better players — you now have to think like an individual. Yes, we’d like to advance as far as we can in the tournament as a team, but you don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
“Our team, starting the year, knew the very first day that we had one round that was so much more important than the rest, and it’s hard not to put pressure on that,” Center Grove coach Cale Hoover added. “It’s still a regional; it’s still pressure. It’s just going to be different without having some of those teams there.”
Hoover, who is now the president of the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association, was one of several coaches who’d been lobbying the IHSAA in an effort to get changes made. And those changes weren’t just made with competitive advantages in mind — geography was also a big selling point.
The realignment was a welcome development for the coaches from Greenwood and Greenwood Christian, whose teams have both had to go and play their sectional rounds at Lapel or New Palestine the past few years while teams such as Roncalli, Southport, Beech Grove and Franklin Central played at the Legends. Some of those schools quite literally had to pass within a few hundred yards of Greenwood High School on US-31 to get to the course.
The old setup was, as Bishop rightly called it, “absurd.”
“The distance really hurt us,” GCA coach Jon Robinson said. “It wears you out; you don’t get enough time to practice before the tournament starts. So we’re glad to have it back closer for sure.”
This fall, Greenwood and GCA get to play in the local sectional at Hickory Stick — and, should they advance, the regional at The Legends. Indian Creek and Edinburgh will also finally funnel into the regional here, provided they can advance out of their sectional in Bloomington.
It’s not quite a perfect alignment for county teams, but it’s a vast improvement.
The new postseason setup affected how teams set up their regular-season schedules. Center Grove used to play in as many tournaments at Smock as it possibly could; Hoover has replaced all of those dates with tourneys at either Hickory Stick or The Legends.
Six regionals instead of five means that 18 teams will advance to the state finals instead of 15. As a result, 15 fewer individuals will get state berths, but that’s a trade-off that Bishop, for one, is completely fine with.
“It puts a little more emphasis on the team part of it,” he said. “And I will just tell you, it’s a lot more fun to go to the state tournament with a team than it is with an individual.
“There’s going to be a lot of individuals at the regional level that are going to catch some bad luck, and they’re not going to make it to state. But I do like the fact that they’re really rewarding team performance.”
Had those rewards been in place previously, they’d almost certainly have benefited more than one Franklin or Center Grove team. There’s no way to right those past wrongs, but at least now they’ve been corrected.
The changes don’t guarantee the Grizzly Cubs and Trojans trips to Prairie View at this season’s end, but they do at least finally make it a fair fight.
“It’s going to have a really different feel,” Hoover said. “I think the regional will still be one of the stronger ones; it’s just probably not going to have that incredible depth that we’ve had.”
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Cale Hoover
Last season: Won county and sectional championships; third at Roncalli Regional, eighth at state
Key returnees: Hayden Brooks, Sage Parsetich and Natalie Wilson, seniors; Rowen Pfeifle, Abby Rich, Camille Short and Lexi Stuart, juniors; Magnolia Miller, sophomore
Top newcomer: Maren Pfeifle, freshman
Outlook: The Trojans are once again loaded with talent, and now those talented players all have a year or two of varsity experience. Parsetich and Short will be counted on to lead this team, but there are at least eight to 10 players capable of contributing if called upon. Center Grove is the county and sectional favorite until proven otherwise and should be on the short list of state title contenders.
Coach: Doug Weddle
Last season: Won Mid-Hoosier Conference championship; ninth at Bloomington North Sectional
Key returnees: Chloe Britton, Cierra Myers, Gracie Myers, Hannah Pile, Izzy Richardson and Jillian Turner, seniors; Maci Blandford, sophomore
Top newcomer: Bella Turner, freshman
Outlook: The Lancers have most of their squad back and are hoping to successfully defend their conference title and perhaps move up in the postsesason pecking order. Richardson will again be at the top of the lineup, with Blandford and Gracie Myers likely following close behind.
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coaches: Ted Bishop and Crystal Morse
Last season: Won Mid-State Conference tournament; second at sectional, fifth at Roncalli Regional
Key returnees: Morgan Sandrock, senior; Kara Heuchan and Addi Livorno, juniors; Reese Phillips, sophomore
Top newcomers: Addi Bright and Lexi Ray, freshmen
Outlook: The Grizzly Cubs lost an All-State player in Ava Ray but gain her younger sister Lexi, who will immediately battle Phillips for the top spot in the lineup. With three other regulars returning and another promising freshman in Bright, Franklin may have its deepest team in years. Advancing to the state finals after several excruciating near-misses is a distinct possibility.
Coaches: Jim and Elizabeth Hassee
Last season: Sixth in Mid-State Conference; fourth at New Palestine Sectional
Key returnees: Lucia Agresta and Emma Baker, juniors; Celia Stanley, sophomore
Top newcomers: Gracie Gasaway and Ella Hall and Hannah Stratton, juniors; Abby Worgess, sophomore; Juliana Stratton, freshman
Outlook: Baker, a regional qualifier last year, is expected to play in the No. 1 position; she’ll be helped out by fellow returnees Agresta and Stanley, as well as Gasaway and Hall. The new co-coaches are still getting familiar with the roster but hope to put a competitive squad on the course that improves over the course of the fall.
Greenwood Christian Cougars
Coach: Jon Robinson
Last season: Eighth at New Palestine Sectional
Key returnees: Emma Hogue, senior; Taylor Harris and Emily Heldman, juniors; Morgan Brandt, sophomore
Top newcomers: Jillian Rosner and Samantha Yarnell, freshmen
Outlook: With all but one player back and a couple of newcomers capable of impacting the lineup, the Cougars should be at least a little bit stronger this year, with Harris, Heldman and Brandt again leading the way. GCA is still probably a few years away from being able to run with the county’s big dogs, but this group is at least trending in the right direction.
Indian Creek Braves
Coach: Rose Moore
Last season: seventh at Bloomington North Sectional
Key returnees: Bailey Dowty and Hannah Emenhiser, seniors; Emilee Pickerel, junior; Cristole Baugh, Emily Hogue and Allison Vavul, sophomores
Top newcomers: Shelby Roach and Reese Tunell, freshmen
Outlook: Moore doesn’t have quite as much returning depth as she had hopes, but the Braves do return their top player in Emenhiser, who will be looking to at least make another individual regional appearance. From a team standpoint, Indian Creek hopes that its younger players will continue to develop and build for the future while still remaining competitive in the short term.
Coach: Katie DeClercq
Last season: Seventh in Mid-State Conference; sixth at Franklin Sectional
Key returnees: Layla Caviness, senior; Chloe Cooper, Emma Gunn, Karley Hoagland and Kylie McGovern, juniors
Top newcomers: Brynn Pierle, junior; Elyana Taylor, freshman
Outlook: After a handful of lean years that saw the Warriors play with fewer than five girls at times, first-year coach DeClercq inherits a squad with a little bit more depth and experience. Cooper, Hoagland and McGovern are all seasoned varsity players, and the team has put in a good bit of offseason work that should start to bear more fruit this fall.