Young program looks to improve under new coach
Tonganoxie golf was born just two years ago, but the program seems to be getting through its growing pains.
In spring 2002 -- the team's inaugural season as a high school varsity sport -- the Chieftains usually placed last or near the bottom at each of their meets.
Last year, THS started to climb in team standings and its players gradually improved scores compared to the previous season.
This spring, the Chieftains again will look to climb higher, but the team has a new hiking leader.
Steve Harrell begins his first season as Tonganoxie's coach. He replaces Darren Neas, who coached the team in its first two years.
An assistant last season, Harrell is familiar with the Chieftains' youthful program.
"Darren got this started and off the ground, but we're still growing," Harrell said.
Harrell contends that his bunch still is a pretty young squad.
THS has six seniors, but only three return from last season. Luke Brown, Chase Nowak and Tyler Davidson all return, while Luke McCarty, Ryan Burke and Matt Weyer are in their first seasons.
The team also has four golfers each in the junior, sophomore and freshman classes. But with that youth comes some experience. Cody Owsley and Adam Reetz have some varsity golf under their belts, as do Cody Sims and Zack Pistora.
"Luke Brown is one of our better golfers," Harrell said about the senior. "In the sophomore class, Cody Sims plays well and so far this season Zack Pistora has hit the ball pretty well."
Sims was Tonganoxie's top golfer at regionals last year. He shot an 89 and missed a state berth by eight strokes. Coming in right behind Sims was Brown, who shot a 95; Nowak was the team's No. 3 golfer at that meet with a 100.
This season, the team also sports its first female in Tonganoxie's short history. Kara Coffee joins the squad this spring. The girls golf season is in the fall, but THS doesn't field a girls team, so Coffee is playing on the boys squad. And that means she will compete from the same distances as the boys.
"If she was on our tournament team, from what I understand she plays from the men's tees," Harrell said.
Overall, the team's ultimate quest is to improve on last season, as was the case the year before. The goal was accomplished then and Harrell thinks the goal can be reached again this spring.
"I think the guys have a real desire to get better and that's always a plus," Harrell said. "They're motivated."
Improving means hopping in a vehicle and playing at various courses in the area. According to Harrell, that can take a toll on a team.
"Being competitive is hard, especially when you don't have a home course," Harrell said. "We're still starting a program."
One of those courses is the pitch and putt site near Eudora. Harrell said the team travels there often to work on its short game and putting.
"If they can get that mental game together and make some shots and where to place the ball, that will make a difference," Harrell said.
The Chieftains open the season Saturday at the Sunflower Classic at Sunflower Hills in Bonner Springs.