When the season started, no one expected them to succeed, except perhaps the players themselves.
Nonetheless, as the season drew to a close, the Indian River golf team proved good enough to almost upset the No. 2 team in the state when they played Sussex Tech for the Founders Cup on May 19.
The Henlopen Conference is loaded with ranked teams, and believe it or not, Indian River snagged a fourth-place finish that day. But they aren’t done there.
“We’ll see where we stand when we go to the state tournament next weekend,” said Head Coach Neil Beahan.
The (12-5) Indians golf team earned their stripes this year and created an identity for themselves. After falling behind, 2-3, early in the season thanks to a trio of perennial contenders (Cape Henlopen, Caesar Rodney, Sussex Tech), the Indians rallied. They began to sink their shots and move up the standings.
Indian River won 10 of their last 11 to put the team in contention for the Founders Cup against their cross-county foe, Sussex Tech. And the Indians were eager for the rematch because they felt that they could compete with anyone at that point in the season, especially on a neutral course.
Indian River traveled to Sussex Tech in the first meeting and lost by 17 strokes, with a score of 180 to 163. The rematch would be a different match altogether — 18 holes instead of nine and at the bright end of a successful year that got off to a rough start.
Beahan had hinted that he might lobby in the future to play the tougher teams at the end of the season so the Indians will have a chance to improve and be able to compete at their highest level.
The golfers have made tremendous strides this season, but in the end, they still had to take a back seat to Sussex Tech, losing the match 234-232.
The teams were tied through their top four golfers, which forced a tiebreaker. And Sussex Tech’s fifth golfer just edged out Indian River’s.
“The guys were really disappointed,” said Beahan. “They didn’t want to keep their trophy, but I think now they understand that they had a really great season.”
The Indians were 1-2 in matches decided by three strokes or less, but those two close losses were both to top-ranked teams — Dover and, of course, Sussex Tech. The close victory was against Polytech.
During the conference tournament, Indian River pulled down fourth place out of 13 teams. Fourth place isn’t bad considering the company — Dover with the win, Caesar Rodney second and Sussex Tech in third place.
And the Indians’ fourth-place finish was one spot better than that of the No. 3 Cape Henlopen team that beat them by 10 strokes earlier in the season.
Senior Jordan Hale led his team at the tournament with a score of 88. Junior Craig Conover shot a 89. Sophomore Richard Webster shot an uncharacteristic 90, and sophomore Matt Binsted scored a 91.
“It was a really nasty day to play golf and I told them keep warm, bring an umbrella and clean their clubs. And it seemed to work for Jordan,” said Beahan.
“It was good to see Jordan shoot well because he hasn’t done as well as he would’ve liked this season. He wasn’t that far off from being the course medalist — I think the winner had a score of 80.”
The Indians have flown under the radar this season — going largely unnoticed by the top-ranked teams and even Southern Conference contenders.
“At the conference tournament, some of the Southern coaches said that they thought that they would have a shot at the South. But we came in and beat the Southern teams — which is what we had to do to compete,” said Beahan.
That means that next season, all eyes will be on Indian River. Everyone will want to know if they are a fluke or the real deal.
And the team won’t change that much from this year. They only lose two players to graduation and return almost the entire starting group.
Combine that with exhibition players who continue to play and improve, and the Indians will again have six or seven interchangeable golfers capable of bringing them a shot at the top.