NEW FRANKLIN Heading down the home stretch of their season, the Manchester golfers have their sights set on another strong tournament run after capturing their first ever sectional title a year ago.
With senior captain Van Wallbrown and fellow seniors Mark Knaus and John Ouimet leading the charge, the Panthers are a confident group. All three are four-year varsity players and as they steer their team toward the start of sectional tournament play Sept. 26 at the Elms Country Club in Massillon, the remaining time before the postseason is all about getting ready for what’s next.
"Van (Wallbrown) has come into his own this year shooting nearly scratch golf all season," head coach Shawn Zavodney said. "He is in the lead for shooting low rounds at our three (league) tournament matches. I expect him to win it."
Zavodney noted that Knaus has "made huge strides this past summer" and has been extremely consistent all season long. His scoring average as the team’s number two player behind Wallbrown has provided the balance needed for a team that has compiled an 11-3 overall mark and 9-3 record in league play.
Behind Wallbrown and Knaus, Ouimet is playing his best golf as the season winds down, according to Zavodney, and is capable of posting the sort of low scores it takes to help his team in big matches
Other members of this year’s unit include seniors Brandon Hughes, junior Brandon Caster and Colten Stewart, and sophomores Ryan Wike, and Christian Shover, a group Zavodney credits with stepping in and contributing as needed.
"Our number four, five and six golfer are Ryan (Wike), Christian (Shover) and Brandon (Caster). I also keep two reserves and have used them in early tournaments, " Zavodney said.
The program itself has grown in recent seasons and sign ups for the team were up this year, with more than 40 signing up and 37 ending up being part of the team.
With that depth, it’s the first year for the team having a 10-man junior varsity roster and there are 11 girls in the program as well. Eight newcomers to the sport come for instruction once or twice a week and seeing that volume of athletes interested in playing has been encouraging for the coaching staff.
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy entered the season as the favorite in the league and has done nothing to lose that status as the year winds down, but Manchester feels it has made strides in chasing down the Royals and after runner-up league finishes the past two seasons, have reason to be confident.
Zavodney, who was recently named the varsity girls head basketball coach, also noted that Spring Hills Golf Club has been a big part of the team’s success. He noted that thanks to owner Gary Kendron and manger Bob Blackford, the program gets free golf year round and the course hosts tournaments with as many as eight schools.
It’s a nice home course edge to have for the Panthers and as they work to continue building a program that is headed in a good direction, it’s a big draw for potential players. Repeating a sectional tournament championship run won’t be easy, but given the strides they’ve made over the past few seasons, Manchester’s golfers like their chances to post low scores and continue to rise up the leaderboard.