It’s been four years since the Indian River High School golf team has clinched a Henlopen South championship. That’s a streak that this year’s squad is looking to snap.
“We want that trophy back,” said Billy Wingate, who takes over as head coach of the Indians after coaching as an assistant with Paris Mitchell Sr. for the past eight years. “I have high hopes for the Henlopen Conference this year and the Southern Division.”
Wingate’s squad is coming off a 9-7 season, where they fell just shy of a title and automatic team bid to the state championships, by way of 209-198 loss to Milford. They’ll be without Honorable Mention All-Conference senior Clayton Hardy but still return several key members from 2014.
First Team All-Conference selection Joey Cooper returns as the team’s No. 1 and for his senior season. He’s aiming to shed a few strokes from his scorecard and return to states for a third year, having not missed the cut since transferring to Indian River as a sophomore.
“I’m really working on my game. I’m trying to just get results and learn to trust my swing more,” said Cooper. “I’d like to make it to states as a team.”
“I’ve been watching him play, and I think he’s gonna be a scratch golfer — one or two over par, 37 or 38 — from the way he’s playing now,” said Wingate of Cooper. “It seems like this year he has a real serious attitude. He’s got a great attitude. The kids look up to him.”
After a break out freshman campaign, Mikaela Brosnahan will gear up for her sophomore year at the No. 2 spot. Along with senior returner Tori Buchanan, the two will lead a group of six female golfers on this year’s roster — the most in school history.
“I think more girls want to pursue it. There’s a lot of scholarships out there for us,” Buchanan said. “I think we’re all on equal footing now. We all can play.”
Junior John Evans will occupy the No. 4 spot, with sophomore Joe D’Orazio and senior Freddie West making the jump from the baseball team to round out the starting six. The rest of roster comprises primarily underclassmen who will compete for a starting spot in the lineup after 23 students showed up for tryouts.
Wingate said that the increased numbers at tryouts could be due to Cripple Creek Golf & Country Club’s junior program, and that he thinks the youth infusion will pay dividends in the seasons to come.
“We’re building. Matt Keller and Brian Trout have got a great starter program here now, and you can tell it’s starting to funnel up into the high school,” Wingate said.
“This group showed a great attitude, and I just thought it would be a great core for the upcoming years. If for some reason somebody starts slacking and not playing well, we’ve got plenty of talent waiting to step up.”
Also helping the team this year is Joey Cooper’s father, Dana Cooper, bringing much experience and expertise in the sport with him.
“He’s a great golfer,” said Wingate. “He’s just giving the kids a couple tips when he sees something on the driving range. He’s a big help.”
“I think with Coach Wingate and my dad coaching, we could go to states. I believe in us,” said Joey Cooper. “I’m hoping that it will be a good year. We’re trying to win every time we come out here.”
The pre-season got under way with a “play day,” when the Indians hosted St. Georges Tech and Sussex Academy at Cripple Creek. The start was a first for the team, as they prepped for regular-season play and a match against reigning Henlopen Conference champion Caesar Rodney.
The Indians were scheduled to get into division play on Thursday, March 24, (after Coastal Point press time), hosting Delmar at Cripple Creek before spring break. After that, they’ll be in the thick of it, on the hunt to return the trophy to IR.
“We have a fun time,” said Wingate. “We want to win. We want to be serious. But at the same time, we want to have a good time. If you don’t have a good time, then golf is not the game for you if you’re not having fun playing it.”
“The goal is for all of us to have fun and to play well,” added Buchanan, “to do well as a team, but to also set our own personal goals and reach them before the end of the season.”