Ready for their chance: Area boys golf teams happy for opportunity to play

MIAMI COUNTY — After the COVID-19 pandemic has forced high school sports to lay dormant since early March, the area’s boys golf teams are anxious to get started.

“We’re hoping to get this show on the road here,” Troy boys golf coach Mark Evilsizor said with a laugh.

And they will do just that on Thursday, being one of the low/non-contact sports given the go-ahead by the Ohio High School Athletic Association to begin competition. But even so, this fall will be different for Troy than other golf seasons, as the Miami Valley League announced last week that all of its sports would play league-only schedules this season.

“Thursday, we’re going to Turtle Creek, but it’s going to be a five-team tournament because only five MVL teams were registered,” Evilsizor said. “At the Troy Invitational Monday, there will be seven schools. At least we still get the chance to play those tournaments, but we won’t play another 18-hole invitational until sectionals. But that’s the day and age we’re in.

“But at least we’re playing. That’s the key. We’ll do whatever it takes to make it as normal as we can for these kids.”

And when the Trojans do get on the course, they will bring with them a lot of experience.

Back leading the way are senior Ryan Dowling and junior Henry Johnston, who were also the two leaders on last year’s young team that went 11-3 overall, 7-2 in the MVL Miami Division and finished third behind Tippecanoe and Sidney last year.

“Ryan, this will be his fourth year on varsity, so I expect good things out of him,” Evilsizor said. “He and Henry, those will probably be the one and two men, bouncing back and forth average-wise.”

Also returning are three more seniors that saw plenty of action last year in Owen Evilsizor, Tag Bender and Kellen Glover.

“We have five key guys returning and a lot of experience coming back,” Evilsizor said. “Last year, the excuse was these kids were young and hadn’t experienced this before. No excuses this year, as far as that’s concerned.”

Freshman Bryce Massingill also earned a starting spot during preseason tryouts, and Trayce Mercer, Luke Huber, Brayden Schwartz and John Kneisley will also likely see playing time throughout the year.

And the Trojans will need all of that firepower to click to contend in the MVL against defending champion Tippecanoe.

“Tipp is the team to beat,” Evilsizor said. “They’re the defending champs, only lost one guy and have all their top scorers back. Greenville also made it to district last year, and Xenia and Stebbins could be competitive, too.”

In the end, though, everyone just is happy to have the chance to play.

“That’s huge,” Evilsizor said. “It’s important for the kids. That’s why you play sports — you want to compete against other people. At least we’re competing, and that’s all we can hope for. We just want to get these guys some sense of normalcy.”

• Piqua

Piqua’s boys had an up-and-down year and finished in the middle of the MVL pack last year, but the Indians are hoping to keep building on the positive steps they did take.

Decker Jackson, Evan Hensler and Drew Hinkle all return to the Indians’ lineup this year, with Richard Price and Sebastian Karabinis joining the roster.

“We want to continue to grow and be competitive as a team and have our scores improve throughout the season,” fifth-year Piqua coach Andy Johnson said. “Tippecanoe will be the team to beat (in the MVL) this year, with Troy and Greenville right there with them.”

• Tippecanoe

Tippecanoe graduated only one player out of the five that played at district last season, and the Red Devils will look to repeat as MVL champions.

Senior Nathan Gagnon and juniors Matt Salmon and Braydon Bottles had three of the top four averages in the MVL last year, with junior Colin Maalouf also having a solid season.

• Milton-Union

Milton-Union returns four of its top five golfers from last year’s Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division championship team, and the Bulldogs are taking aim at another title.

Seniors Sam Case and Max Grafflin, junior Nathan Thompson and sophomore Grady Vechazone are all back from last year’s team, with freshman Colin Fogle adding depth to the mix.

“After last year’s league title with this core returning, we are probably the team to beat along with Carlisle in the SWBL Buckeye Division,” said Brett Barnes, entering his sixth year as Milton-Union coach. “Our goals are to repeat as SWBL champions for the first time in school history and to qualify for district play as a team.”

• Newton

Last year, one year removed from a trip to the state tournament, Newton won the Cross County Conference title — and the Indians are definitely looking to repeat.

“Miami East and Arcanum will be the teams to beat, but our goals are to improve each match and win the league,” second-year Newton coach Ryan Karn said.

They’ve got good reason to think they can, too. The Indians bring back four players off of last year’s championship team: Ross Ferrell, Chandler Peters and Hudson and Mitchell Montgomery, with Aaron Calvin joining the team along with four new freshmen.

• Miami East

Miami East returns four of its top players from last year’s team and is hoping to dethrone CCC champion Newton and get back to the district tournament.

Seniors Sam Zapadka and Andrew Bevan, junior Noah King and sophomore Colin Jennings bring back a lot of experience, while sophomores Luke Burnke and Eric LeMaster also saw time last year. Freshmen Devin Nix, Abram Friend and Devin Goodpaster will be new to the Vikings this season.

“We will be chasing a league championship this year that we just missed last year,” second-year Miami East coach Roger Davidson said. “We made it to districts last year as a team and would like to make it two years in a row. We will need to play well in order to stay in the top of our league this year.”

• Covington

Senior Grant Humphrey returns to lead the Covington boys this season, with the Buccaneers hoping to compete atop the CCC.

“Newton is probably the team to beat, and we should finish in the top third of the league,” 16th-year Covington coach Bill Wise said. “Our goals are to finish in the top third of the league and qualify for districts.”

Humphrey, who Wise said should be a top player in the CCC, and fellow senior Job Morgan will help provide leadership for the Buccs, while junior Carter Maxson is back after a year off of golf.

• Bethel

Bethel coach Brett Brookhart returns for his 27th season with the Bees, this year boasting a young team and playing at new home Homestead Golf Course.

“We are young and only have seven golfers this year, so our goal is to improve throughout the year,” he said. “With our new course with excellent practice facilities, we will be able to work on many aspects of the game during practice, and hopefully that will carry over in our matches.”

Juniors Sam Larsen, Drew Stitzel and Zach Smith and sophomores JD Dillman and Ben Horner return from last year’s team, while freshmen Ben Sonnanstine and Garrett Fetgatter are new to varsity.

• Bradford

Bradford finished one place away from a berth in the district tournament last year, and the Railroaders return five players off of that team — including an individual district qualifier — with hopes of advancing as a team.

“(We) placed fifth last year at sectionals, one spot away from making it to districts,” Bradford coach Ryan Schulze said. “We return our top five averages who have been working hard this summer to improve. Scout Spencer made district last year as a freshman. We hope to bring our whole team there this year.”

In addition to the sophomore Spencer, senior Taven Leach, junior Keaton Mead and sophomores Parker Davidson and Dalten Skinner also return, with senior Gage Wills and freshman Landon Wills joining the team.

• Troy Christian

Zane Harris returns for Troy Christian, and second-year coach Robby Lybarger says all of the new Eagles look promising as the team hopes to improve on last year’s showing.

“We want to continue building on our improvement from last season and be competitive within the Metro Buckeye Conference,” Lybarger said. “Middletown Christian will remain the team to beat for the conference championship.”

• Lehman

With a young team and a pair of returners, sixth-year Lehman coach Eric Harlamert has high hopes for this year’s Cavaliers.

“We want to improve as much as possible and be competitive in the league,” he said. “I hope to have at least one player advance to the district level in the OHSAA tournament. I think Waynesfield-Goshen will be great this year. They won the league last year.”

Junior John Gagnet and sophomore Hezekiah Bezy both return from last year’s team, with freshmen Noel Peterson and Taylor Geise joining the team.