Youth Movement Means Litchfield Poised To Be Good For A While

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Litchfield High School golf Coach Dan Newkirk said that the 2020 season was one of his favorite seasons to coach, which bodes well for Newkirk, because he’ll be seeing these players a lot over the next few years.

Of the 26 players on this year’s boys and girls golf team, 15 were freshmen or sophomores, nine of whom played big roles in the Panthers’ starting lineups. Seven more were juniors, meaning that Newkirk will return a lot from this year’s teams, including all 12 players who started at regionals this past fall.

The Lady Panthers were nothing short of phenomenal this season, going 20-2, with a 20 match win streak that lasted until their final match against traditional powers Rochester and Auburn, who beat them by 20 and three strokes respectively.

Litchfield finished fifth in a less than typical regional, with sophomore standout Laura Boston advancing to sectionals. In a regular year, Carly Guinn would have been with her too.

After finishing fifth individually at regionals, Boston took seventh at sectionals and would have been a state qualifier if COVID-19 hadn’t canceled that tournament. The performance showed that Boston wasn’t only one of the best in the area, but she was ready to perform with the best in Class A.

The 2020 season wasn’t just a coming out party for Boston though, it was an announcement that the Lady Panthers were ones to contend with in the girls golf landscape.

After a solid performance last year led to their first South Central Conference Tournament Championship, the Litchfield girls made it back-to-back titles with a 22-stroke win over Carlinville.

Boston medalled with an 84, but teammate Carly Guinn was right on her tail with an 86. Boston, a sophomore, and Guinn, a junior, gave Litchfield as good of a 1-2 punch as there was in the area all year long.

Boston, the team’s MVP,  lived in the upper 30s and low 40s all year long, while Guinn’s stroke average wasn’t far behind, coming in around in the mid-40s.

While Boston and Guinn were the big two, Hailey Rentz, Alyssa Loyd, Olivia Fleming and Lauren Monke showed that they could put up solid scores to complement their leaders at any point in time.

All four girls ranged between the high 40s and mid-50s for their stroke averages with their lows four to five strokes below that. 

Rentz hit 46 twice this year, while Loyd’s low was a 48 at Vandalia. Fleming hit 50 twice toward the end of the season, while Monke, the team’s most improved player, shot a 49 in September, ten strokes better than her first varsity appearance.

Sophomore Charlotte Gardner and senior Izzy Ray also improved as the season went on, with Gardner shooting her best round on Sept. 16, with a 58.

With Ray the only senior on this year’s roster and all six starters from the team that started the regional in Taylorville coming back, there is no reason to believe that the Lady Panthers won’t be just as good, or better in 2021.

And just for the sake of history, the only time that Litchfield has made it to state as a team was in 1984-85, when they also won their first, and only regional championship.

Litchfield Boys Golf

That statement goes for the LHS boys too, who went 18-4, with their top five players in their first or second year of high school.

Team MVP Tug Schwab was lights out all year, earning medalist honors seven times in ten matches and all-conference recognition with the fourth best score overall (the best by a player not on SCC champion Vandalia).

Schwab, who averaged under 40 for the season, struggled on the first nine of his regional debut, but the freshman returned to form on the second half of the course and nearly advanced to the sectional, coming up three strokes short. He’ll have more chances and will more than likely capitalize on them.

Ian Otto did just that in his regional debut, shooting a 42 on the front nine at Timber Lakes to solidify his spot in the standings and advance to the sectional with an 86.

At the sectional in West Frankfort, Otto would hold his own against some of the best, nearly breaking 100 as he shot a 101 to tie for 79th place. For the season, Otto averaged just under 48 for regular season matches, fourth best on the team.

The third member of the freshman triumvirate for the Panthers was AJ Odle, who averaged 46.5, the third best on the team. With just five strokes separating his best nine-hole round (a 44) and his worst (a 49), Odle was the picture of consistency despite his inexperience.

The sophomores in the top five not only had success in common this year, but a family tree as well. Cousins Zach Boston and Keagan Marten were solid contributors for the Panthers this year, under the watchful eye Newkirk and  volunteer coach, Tony Marten, their grandfather.

Boston, who was named as the team’s most improved player, would be second to Schwab in strokes average at 45.7, with a low of 43 two times during the year. Boston, who didn’t shoot over 49 in a nine-hole match during the season, was also just one stroke off an all-conference spot this year, shooting an 85 to finish 11th overall.

Marten, like much of the others in the top five, was very consistent, with most of his rounds in the mid-to-upper 40s. Marten’s low was a 45, which earned him medalist honors, and he posted scoring rounds for the Panthers in both the SCC tournament and the regional in Staunton.

The top five just scratched the surface for Coach Newkirk’s club. Seniors Cam Frerichs, Haydan Brown and Carter Powell contributed at different times, sometimes on varsity, sometimes in practice rounds.

Juniors Ryan Baugher and Allen Schneider would both see extensive time in the starting lineup, averaging 50.22 and 54.6 per nine holes respectively, while Kelvin Dooley also had the chance to play some varsity and JV matches, shooting 54.5 per nine. Drew Hartzel (50.4) and Blaine Stewart (50.75) made contributions as well, but may forgo their senior year to return to football if things return to normal in 2021.

In addition to Marten and Boston, Tyler Thompson and Ethan Witt make up the sophomore class for Litchfield, while Mitchell Floyd, Brawly Jacobs and Zach Leitschuh join the freshmen. All will have the opportunity to improve and vie for one of the top spots next year.

With so much young talent on the roster, especially at the top, it could be intimidating for some of the other players, but that shouldn’t get them down. Competition will only make the Panthers better and stronger against teams like Vandalia and Hillsboro, who finished ahead of them in conference and return a lot as well.

Just because you are a year older, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a year better, but under the guidance of Coach Newkirk and Assistant Coaches Justin Ripley and Tony Marten, the Panthers have the potential to do big things. How big? Who knows, but the last time the boys went to state as a team was 1990. Again, just some history for the reader.

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