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The Greens of Spring

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Connersville’s Jonah Graham keeps his head down during a drive on the fairway at Forest Hills Country Club, last season at the IHSAA sectional. Graham and the Spartans open their 2019 season at the Yorktown Invitational on Saturday, April 6.
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Connersville’s Alex Austerman leans into a fairway shot last spring at Greensburg. Austerman will be one of three seniors for the Spartans this season.
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Connersville’s Breydan Shafer chips out of the rough at the Connersville High School Invitational meet last year at Willowbrook Country Club. Shafer is back for his senior season with the Spartans.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Entering the 2019 golf season, the Connersville High School boys team will be looking to end a four-year regional drought.

Connersville won the sectional in 2015, the Spartans accomplishing that behind the efforts of Evan Pflum, Tyler Kendall, Chandler Graves, Micah Kelley and Dalton Lee. In the following year, CHS wasn’t nearly as fortunate, finishing eighth, 46 strokes away from earning one of the top three spots at the sectional.

In the two following years, however, the team inched closer to a regional qualification, missing the cut by a dozen strokes in 2017 and by only nine swings last year.

None of those golfers are back for the 2019 edition, as the last of those, Lee, graduated last season after earning an individual trip to the regional.

Guiding the Spartans to what they hope will be a return to the Muncie regional will be new coach Jeff Martin, who takes over for J.J. Huber.

While he might be the first-year coach with the Spartans, Martin will be no stranger to the players on the team nor the course at Willowbrook Country Club.

Martin has spent the past five years (four of them as head coach) at Connersville Middle School, meaning he is being reunited with most of the CHS roster.

The Spartans will have three seniors on the ‘19 squad — Alex Austerman, Hutton Getz and Breydan Shafer. One other golfer, Jonah Graham returns to the team for his sophomore season.

“I believe that Jonah has the potential to be our No. 1, if he continues to work the way he has,” Martin said.

That’s the only experienced players Martin will have to work with, as the team waves goodbye to Lee, Jeremiah Friend, Cooper Griffin, Adam Kelly, Cade Kelley, Ryan McIntyre, Brayden Pea and Ryan Scott.

“It’s going to be somewhat of a rebuilding year,” Martin said of his first go-round with the Spartans. “That said, I have been pretty impressed with the veteran players so far.”

Joining the four returnees this season will be five freshmen. Playing their first high school matches will be Grady Getz, Braden Moore, Nathan Shawl, Ethan Steele and Dylan Thomas.

“One advantage that our freshmen will have is that they have experience,” Martin said. “They have played multiple matches in middle school.”

With the four returning players more than likely filling the top four spots in CHS’ line-up, it will fall to the freshmen to fill the other two spots at each meet.

“As far as numbers go, we’re hurting a little bit,” Martin said. “Some kids that were expected to play, didn’t come out. There aren’t enough upperclassmen to carry the team throughout the season, which means the younger players are going to have to step up in a hurry, if we’re going to be successful.

“Our group of freshmen are great kids though, and they have a lot of potential. They just need to keep working hard.”

Both the returning players and freshman have a common focus, as the season approaches, Martin pointed out.

“Right now, we’re all looking to improve our short game,” he said. “Working on that part of the game is going to really help us bring scores down, so that’s where our focus is right now. How we get there will be through repetitive swings and continued work.”

Connersville’s first home meet is set for Friday, April 12. That will be one of only five appearances at Willowbrook for the Spartans, as they’re back in town on April 15 (vs. Batesville, Franklin County, Oldenburg Academy), April 30 (vs. Knightstown, Shelbyville), May 7 (Union County) and on May 18 for their home invitational.

The sectional at Richmond is scheduled for June 3, and getting into one of the top three spots to advance to the regional to end CHS’ four-year drought, won’t be easy Martin says.

“Union County and Centerville have really good teams,” he said. “Richmond is always tough as well.”

Both of those teams finished ahead of the Spartans at last year’s postseason meet. In addition to those two, Hagerstown, last year’s sectional champion, will be led by individual sectional champion Carson Orr, and should be considered a true threat at the meet, as well.

The Spartans open their season at the Yorktown Invitational on Saturday, April 6.