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Ole Miss hopes it has strength in numbers

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Mississinewa's girls' golf team has a luxury not many other teams in the area can claim: enough girls to field varsity and junior varsity teams.

When the Indians started practice last week at the Elks Country Club, coach Troy Simpson had 11 girls come out and all are working hard in preparation for their first match Friday against Marion and Madison-Grant at Elks Country Club.

What Ole Miss has in numbers, however, it lacks in experience as six girls are just playing golf for the first time in their lives. Still, Simpson is optimistic for the possibilities for the 2019 season.

"I'm so happy to have that many girls interested in our program when other schools are stopping their programs because they can't get any interest. I am thrilled to death," Simpson said Wednesday evening as he watched the Indians play a few holes at the Elks. "I would like to see it go down to some of our younger grades so we could have more time with them because the girls, after they do it for a year, they're like 'Gosh, I wish I would have done this before'. Hopefully, when you get this many numbers out they'll tell friends, and those friends will come back out. So there is optimism."

Simpson said he started recruiting for this fall season immediately following last year and five of his girls just beginning to learn the game are seniors. He said the same process will play out following this season as he attempts to keep the numbers up in a sport that is truly struggling in the area.

The Indians aren't completely devoid of experience and some of Simpson's optimism stems from his returning trio of senior Peighten Allen along with juniors Maggie LaBarr and Anabella Pannell. Senior Jayce White will also be in the lineup after playing JV golf last season.

"Maggie is talented. She is such a social person and she just loves everybody and loves to make new friends," Simpson said. "Sometimes I want her to be more hard-nosed and (say) I'm going to beat my competitor, but yet she would rather be their best friend. Sometimes I just have to laugh at that. But I think this is the year we're going to see Maggie LaBarr take golf seriously and realize that 'Man, I'm good at this'.

"Anabella really came on strong at the end of last year and is really excited to be playing golf. I really think this will be a good year for her, too," he added. "Peighten is just steady Peighten, never gets too high or never gets too low. I can count on every night what Peighten Allen is going to give me and that's all I ask from her. She just stays within herself."

Simpson said it's much too early to tell who will fill his fifth spot in varsity matches, and as the season progresses, there could be numerous girls who get that opportunity.

Ole Miss softball players Alivia Rice and Kylie Smalley along with senior classmates Alexis Tignor, Olivia Keller, Izabel Cornejo and Jadelynn Berry all will be competing to make the Indians lineup. 

"They're so inexperienced I just want them to come out and have a good time and they're battling it out for that number five," Simpson said. "Every night it might be a new five, and that's okay. I don't have any problems with that. They'll try to tell you it's no big deal but they want it.

 

"Not only are you a coach and trying to teach them, but sometimes you're the psychiatrist or father figure that puts his arm around them and says, 'Look, it's going to be okay. You are going to get better' so you don't lose them," he added. "I told one tonight, you've played five practices. You're not going to be perfect. Golf is hard, it's a hard sport to play."

With the blend of experienced players and rookies, Simpson believes Ole Miss can compete in its biggest matches of the season, including the Grant Four and Central Indiana Conference. And that's all he's asking from his team.

"I want us to compete, too, and I'm not going to be happy if we don't compete," he said. "If we win the county or win the CIC, man, that's awesome. If we don't do that but we are right there with them I can't say I'm unhappy. 

 

"Ultimately, what I want for the girls is I want to give them a sport they can play for the rest of their lives," Simpson continued. "There is no doubt when it comes to character and attitude, I feel like 1 through 11, I've got it easy compared to a lot of other coaches. I just want them to enjoy it, have fun and when they walk away from the sport I hope they say I really enjoyed that and wish it could have went longer."