Numbers game lingers for golf squads

Photos by Caitlin O’Hara/The Herald
Jasper’s Maddie Wagner teed off at the Wildcat Invitational on Saturday at Buffalo Trace Golf Course in Jasper, where the Cats secured a runner-up finish in the 11-team tournament. Floyd Central topped Jasper for first place, while Southridge landed in 10th place.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — The 6-mile move was anything but an easy drive for Phil Olinger.

Sure, he’s a Dubois County guy, so the chance to coach a girls golf team with 14 sectional titles and 15 state finals appearances carried some added allure. But leaving what he’d started at Southridge — the relationships built, the improvements seen, the early building blocks laid in place for long-term stability — turned out to be a struggle as well.

Snyder

For the first time this season, Jasper and Southridge squared off in the same invitational Saturday at Buffalo Trace Golf Course, where a quick glance at each team in the Wildcat Invitational may have pointed out the most noticeable difference in programs — Jasper toting two five-golfer squads with still more girls left off the lineup, while five golfers represented the Raiders’ Saturday contingent.

The Wildcats’ top squad, bolstered by Annika Harmon’s 82 and Catherine Bell’s 87, secured second place in the invitational with a 364, topped only by 15th-ranked Floyd Central (333) and its medalist, Jessica Ingram (77). The Raiders (479) grabbed 10th in the 11-team field, while Forest Park’s lone competitor, Hannah Schuler, posted a 114. Sarah Ackerman chipped in a 93 for the Wildcats, while Olivia Mundy paced the Raiders with a 116 and Rosa Orñelas fired a 117.

As of now, a gap in players and scores between Jasper and Southridge isn’t hard to see.

But first-year Raider coach Dennis Weitkamp, and Olinger for that matter, aim and hope for the dichotomy in depth to soon be history.

So far, the early stages of the season with Wildcats “have been great,” Olinger said. “The girls have been great. Working with the parents has been great. (Former coach Steve Milligan) has helped a lot. I just have a lot of help, a lot of people to thank for that.”

Yet the move from his post in Huntingburg “definitely wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to do,” he said. “But I still talk with them a lot. I’m always willing to work with them if they ask and obviously hope for the best for them. … Still glad to see them out here competing with us.”

So is Weitkamp.

In a way, the 1982 Tecumseh grad (Weitkamp) and 2007 Southridge grad (Olinger), have and had parallel visions for the Raider program. They know consistency is only possible with a steady stream of talent. Sporadic roster numbers spell erratic scores.

During Olinger’s two years coaching at his alma mater, he made changing that a priority. He established a Southridge Middle School girls team, hoping to promote the sport and give girls a leg up before they reach the high school level. It’s something Weitkamp has prioritized, too.

While Weitkamp hasn’t had the time so far this season to set much up, it’s a top concern once the season’s over. He plans to visit the middle school to talk with kids and hopes to work with Raider boys coach Brock Matthews and make it a joint effort to attract both boys and girls to the game.

“I know we’re a smaller school, but I’d like to get them interested and involved at a younger age, and hopefully they like it and stick with it,” Weitkamp said.

Southridge’s Megan Weitkamp watched her shot from the fairway at Buffalo Trace Golf Course in Jasper, where Weitkamp and the Raiders took 10th place in the Wildcat Invitational.

His hope is that another case like Paige Snyder doesn’t happen again.

The Raider senior, who toiled through Saturday’s oppressive heat and humidity to post a 120, picked up clubs for the first time as a junior because, well, why not?

“I just wanted to give it a try,” Snyder said.

By year two, she’s already flirting with nine-hole scores in the 40s, having posted a career-best 51 against Crawford County last week. Snyder just wishes she had picked up the sport sooner. Needless to say, she’d advocate for further developing a feeder system as well.

“I think that would help us a lot — help out them, individually, to get better and to have a better team here (at the high school),” Snyder said.

The way Olinger sees it, the pieces, the potential, are there for the Raiders. They have a course where they can play. They have a driving range where they can practice. The area has a healthy golf culture and the team has had success in the past, like the Raiders’ run of eight Pocket Athletic Conference titles between 2001 and ’09.

The focus now is consistency.

To get there, it may require the Raiders to adopt a practice routine like that of Maddie Wagner, the Jasper freshman who’s led the Cats in scoring three times this season and fired a 102 Saturday. She’d already started swinging year-round before entering high school, traveling to tournaments across state lines in Kentucky and as far as Plymouth, where she played in an event with Harmon during the summer. With the added swings, “we’re already built up” once the season starts, Wagner said.

That’s not to say the Wildcats are without flaw. Even with the meatier roster, Olinger is still searching for a reliable No. 5 golfer. Natalie Hopf, Mady Horney and Gillian Blessinger have all worn the No. 5 hat this season, and Taylor Stilwell found her way into the slot Saturday, posting a 104.

“We’re still looking for some consistency,” Olinger said. “I must have switched my No. 5 player four or five times this year so far. I don’t think we’ve had the same girl come to a Saturday (invitational) yet. We’re still looking for that player to fill the No. 5 spot.”

Other than that, it’s been just peachy for Olinger and his new team. It took “two seconds, at the most,” Wagner said, for the initial unfamiliarity to vanish between the coach and his crew. Now, it’s all good. Olinger let the girls dump ice water on his head for his Ice Bucket Challenge video Friday.

“He just sat there, like, ‘This is awesome,’” Wagner recalled with a laugh.

For Weitkamp, the long-term aim for Southridge is to have a roster hovering around 15 girls or so. And though numbers may be down this year with just seven golfers, there is something about this group he hopes becomes ingrained in the program for years to come.

“The enthusiasm,” Weitkamp said. “Just when I think it’s slacked off — like last week, we had a meet but we didn’t win. But the next day when I get to practice, they were like, ‘I want to play hole No. 6 because I really did bad on that yesterday. I want to get out there and do that.’ And that’s great. … I like to see that, whenever they know they could have played that hole better, they want to go back to play that hole again to improve. The enthusiasm’s there.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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