NEW FRANKLIN After graduation depleted nearly all of Manchester’s varsity golf roster from one year ago, a team in need of a new identity was left behind.
As the Panthers enter the final leg of what has been a challenging season, the Panthers are still in search mode, but are feeling a bit more confident after earning their first dual meet win in a Sept. 4 contest against Northwest by a one-shot margin.
"We have a really young team with some athleticism," head coach Shawn Zavodney said of his team. "The good news is we have over 30 golfers this year, so we have a nice big pool of golfers. Our girls keep growing in numbers as well … 14 this year."
Manchester has also competed in three tournaments, the Griffiths Cup (Spring Hills), and two Principals Athletic Conference tournaments (preseason, midseason), finishing in the middle of the pack in both.
The Panthers, who finished third a year ago in the PAC-7, were happy to garner a win by shooting a team score of 183 to best Northwest’s 184 mark.
With the numbers up in the program, Zavodney believes the win and the season as a whole can serve as a stepping stone for the future as his club gains valuable experience each time out.
"Our goal entering the season was just hoping to be competitive and win a match or two along the way," Zavodney said. "I feel that we have been able to accomplish that. The boys that are playing varsity are great learners. They are athletic as well, which really helps, especially with the hand, eye coordination aspect of the game."
A team heavy on underclassmen has just one returning letterwinner from last season, junior Ryan Wike. Juniors Christian Shover and Brandon Caster saw limited duty on the varsity, but did not letter. Having that experience has helped the duo somewhat, but becoming full-time starters has been a big challenge.
Still, Zavodney pointed to his junior trio as "a good example for the brand new guys, who have never been in any competitive situations before." He believes that both Wike and Shover have the potential to grow quickly and help mitigate the graduation losses that left the team missing players such as Van Wallbrown, who was the first Manchester golfer ever to make it to the state tournament, where he ended up finishing 39th in Division II, shooting rounds of 82 and 83 at North Star Golf Club in Sunbury. He was also the reigning PAC Player of the Year and his loss has been felt this season. With only a handful of matches remaining, the Panthers are hoping to continue their upward trend and make a good showing in the postseason.
Manchester, whose home course is Spring Hills in Clinton, will open tournament play on Sept. 26 at Elms Country Club in Massillon.