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Springfield golf enters new era of Metro Athletic Conference play

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

SPRINGFIELD TWP. Amidst the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, golf has been one of the few sports able to return to play. For the Springfield girls golf team, that has meant a chance to jump in a new era for the school's sports teams as they begin competition as part of the new Metro Athletic Conference, comprised of schools from the old Portage Trail Conference Metro Division, which split from the PTC County Division after last school year.

In the MAC preseason tournament, the Spartans teed it up at Raintree Golf Course in Uniontown and tallied a team score of 422, good for third place behind champion Cloverleaf and runner-up Field. Springfield head coach Kevin Hanna knows the tournament is the start of what could be a big season for his team.

"Our goal at the start of every year is to win the league. In order to do that we will have to win two of the three (among the) pre-season MAC tournament, MAC league play and postseason MAC tournament," Hanna said. "So we now have a large task in front of us. We will need a few of the girls to set their minds to it and play like I know they can."

In the preseason tournament, a pair of younger competitors led the way as sophomores Cami Leporis and Morgan Miller shot rounds of 98 and 101, respectively. While those figures were within range of what Hanna expected going into the event, he's seen results in practice that suggest his golfers can shoot even lower numbers.

That bodes well for a team trying to close the gap with a Cloverleaf squad that was 49 shots clear of the field in the preseason tournament. The gap between Field and Springfield was much closer – just four shots – and the Spartans will see both teams on the course again this season.

According to their coach, finishing in the top three at the tournament isn't likely to lead to any complacency.

"The girls always want to perform better than they do," Hanna said. "This is what I love so much about this team. They are never satisfied, which is great for such a young team."

Merely being back out on the course to start the season was a welcome development for the team. Hanna pointed not only to players, but coaches, parents and administrators as being excited to see sports return amidst the pandemic. Golf has an edge because social distancing is largely built into the sport and there is no direct contact between competitors.

As has been seen in various professional golf tournaments that have been televised in recent weeks, protocols are in place for on-course health and safety. Working under state and Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines, Raintree Golf Course made sure the necessary measures were in place.

"We each had a slotted amount of time to putt and hit at the driving range ... This reduced the mixing of teams," Hanna said. "All courses have removed ball washers, bunker rakes and have asked that the pins not be removed."

Teams were provided prepackaged sandwiches and bottled drinks and wore masks while standing six feet apart waiting for their food. It's a preview of what's to come in the weeks ahead, assuming that the OHSAA and state allow golf to continue as the pandemic rages on.

Goals for the coming tournaments and matches for Springfield include a league title, as well as individual aspirations to earn All-MAC honors. For some members of the roster, health and rounding into form are at the top of the list. To get there, Hanna noted, they'll have to continue to believe in themselves and boost their self-confidence.

"I believe some of the girls are still lacking the confidence needed to achieve the goals," Hanna said. "The confidence will come from continued improvement in a competition setting. They have set the bar for themselves and now they will watch the bar be pushed higher and higher as they improve."

One of the team's top golfers, junior Grace Atkinson, is out due to an injury and Hanna is hoping to see her back on the course as soon as possible. With four juniors and three sophomores on the roster, the Spartans are looking to not only succeed this season, but to build for the future as well.

A solid outing in the MAC preseason tournament has laid the foundation for this season, leaving the Spartans excited to apply lessons learned from the event and put themselves in a position to chase their remaining goals for the campaign/