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Prep golf: Worthington enters season fired up

WORTHINGTON -- Here's something you can't coach: enthusiasm.Worthington High School boys golf coach John Koller considers himself a lucky guy, as coaches go. His 2016 Trojan golfers are self-starters."These guys are golf junkies. I don't need to ...

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TIM MIDDAGH/DAILY GLOBE The Worthington boys and girls golf teams return a total of 11 letterwinners this season. The Trojan boys bring back (left to right): Nathoe Vorasane, Tyler Van Hove, Ben Koepsell and Jacob Prunty.

WORTHINGTON - Here’s something you can’t coach: enthusiasm.
Worthington High School boys golf coach John Koller considers himself a lucky guy, as coaches go. His 2016 Trojan golfers are self-starters.
“These guys are golf junkies. I don’t need to tell them to get out onto the golf course. They’re usually out here. They’re highly motivated kids,” Koller said last week during after-school practice at the Worthington Country Club.
After qualifying last year for Minnesota’s Class AA state tournament, the Worthington boys golf team returns four decorated linksters who will hope to duplicate that effort this spring. Also looking to make waves will be a WHS girls team, coached by Ben DeRynck, returning several solid players from the season before.
The Trojans’ boys and girls teams open today at the local country club against Minneota. Here’s a look at the teams:
Good competition, good depth
There were no seniors on the Worthington girls squad last year, and the 2016 team is loaded with experience.
Senior three-year starters Kelicy Anderson, Rachel Koller and Ashley Hoefker will be joined this year by several other capable golfers including sophomore Anneke Weg, junior Makayla Ebbers, freshman Sydney Luft and eighth-graders Bailey Weg and McKenna Prunty.
Participation in girls golf has increased, going from seven to about 27, between the grades of 7-12, in three years. DeRynck is pleased with the added depth and the fact that the girls will be able to challenge each other in practice.
“In any sport, the best method for success is to have good competition,” DeRynck said.
In Anderson, the Trojans have a player with good length off the tee who can score consistently low by working on her short game. Koller is another who is long off the tee, and she has seen success in the 50-foot chipping range. Hoefker is a steady golfer who doesn’t get rattled, and DeRynck calls her his most improved player from the 2015 season.
The sophomore Weg is another three-year starter who can shoot in the low 40s. A fine all-around athlete, there is no part of her golf game that is weak.
Bailey, Anneke’s younger sister, is blessed with a natural swing, and DeRynck expects her to continue making good strides. Prunty is small but powerful and is a straight-hitter. Ebbers has improved her ball-striking and possesses a passionate interest in golf. The coach describes Luft as a player who has untapped potential and a good, natural swing.
As a coach, DeRynck stresses the more delicate parts of the game.
“My focus, when we get into the meat of the season, is the short game. It’s once you get 100 yards and in, it’s to minimize your shots,” he said.
Looking ahead to the section tournament at the end of the spring season, DeRynck points out that the top five teams advance from Day One to Day Two, and he hopes Worthington can be one of those.
He believes WHS can do well in the Big South Conference, too.
“In the Big South, there are 13 teams. I think it’s very realistic to finish in the top four,” he said. “I think any one of our six golfers (who make up the varsity squad) can finish in the top 18 for all-conference.”
Greed is good
“We’re excited to get going. I got a great group of kids. Hard-working kids. We’ve got four kids who got pretty good varsity experience last year. And we’re looking to add to those kids,” coach Koller said in his preseason assessment. “The boys loved state. State was an awesome experience. They want to get back. I told them to get greedy.”
The Trojans absolutely roared into the 2015 state tournament, beating second-place Marshall by nine strokes in the Section 3AA meet at Oakdale Country Club in Buffalo Lake. They finished eighth at the state meet, but improved on the second day of competition.
Two outstanding players, Alex Kremer and Will Mulder, have graduated. But returning are senior Tyler Van Hove, sophomores Ben Koepsell and Jacob Prunty, and junior Nathoe Vorasane.
Koller calls Van Hove “quite possibly the most consistent golfer I’ve had the last two years.” Sneaky-long off the tee with all the shots he needs to be successful, he is the team captain in 2016.
Koepsell made noticeable improvement last year and possesses an excellent mental attitude, which helps him recover from wayward shots. Prunty improved by about seven shots during the course of the last season and is a fiery competitor. Koller calls Vorasane his “most cerebral player” and an extremely hard worker who puts everything he’s got into every shot.
In looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, Vorasane hoped last year’s state tournament success can carry over.
“It’s great to get your feet wet at state,” he said. “It really shows you the top competition. It just really makes you want to strive to get better.”
And it inspires him personally, too. “Every summer that’s all I do. I just go out and golf. I know where I want to get at golf, so I go out and work hard.”
Koller said for the Trojans to get to where they want to go this spring, they will have to develop their depth. Several golfers will vie for the team’s fifth and sixth spots. Numbers overall are up.

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TIM MIDDAGH/DAILY GLOBE The girls have seven returners. They are (left to right): McKenna Prunty, Kelicy Anderson, Rachel Koller, Bailey Weg, Anneke Weg, Ashley Hoefker and Sydney Luft.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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