Plainfield — The second-ranked Zionsville girls golf team got the 2019 season off to a solid start on Monday at the Plainfield Invite.
Led by a medalist effort from junior Lauren Kaltenmark, the Eagles shot a 332 to defeat Westfield by a stroke to win the title.
"It went really well, especially since we have only had two official practices and Annabelle (Pancake) isn't with us. ," Zionsville head coach Steve Simmons said. "That is something I have to get used to because it's a big adjustment from the boys season. We got some experience and from that stand point today was a huge success."
It was the first tournament under the leadership of Steve Simmons, who took over for Jeff Anderson in the off-season.
Simmons, has been the coach of the boys program for years, and said while it has been limited practice time, the girls seem to be willing to learn.
"It's hard to say exactly how they are adjusting because we haven't been together that much," Simmons said. "But this is a senior group, and they have been willing to accept game-planning — which we have started doing — and they are willing to listen. This group is a great listening group and so far it has been great. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we are just trying to get better all the way through the season until the sectional, and then we will see where we are at."
Kaltenmark led the Eagles with a 75, one of just two golfers in the field in the 70s
It was the first career varsity medalist for Kaltenmark, who had three-straight birdies at one point on the back nine en route to shooting a 35 on the back.
"She made so many birdies today," Simmons said. "She had those three on the back, and I haven't seen her scorecard, but I think she had a couple on the front too. Lauren is very capable of that and is a strong girl that can hit the ball a long way. She is just now realizing how good she can be. I'm not surprised about how well she played today, and now what we are looking for is not necessarily more birdies, but reducing some of the mistakes and then she can really go low. I am very proud of her."
Abby Theilbar was fourth overall with an 80.
The other three girls were making their varsity debuts.
Amanda Krieger shot an 87, with Megan Gray and Michelle O’Brien both shot 90s.
With normal No. 1 golfer Annabelle Pancake out for the first week of the season while playing in the US Women’s Amateur in Mississippi, it is giving some other girls an opportunity to make their case for one of the other varsity spots.
"We are so proud and happy for Annabelle and what she is doing this week," Simmons said. "But yes, it probably does help us to get some of the other girls in there and give them some varsity experience and show them what this is all about. We do have some inexperience in that 4 and 5 spot, even though they are upperclassmen. It is great that they are getting this opportunity, and they are going to get a full week of tournaments at good golf courses to play on."
The Eagles have a busy opening week of the season, with four 18-hole tournaments in the first six days.
They play at Battle Ground Tuesday, with a 2 p.m. shotgun tee time.
They will then play at Crooked Stick on Thursday and at the State Preview on Saturday.
"This has been so crazy for me," Simmons said. "I have reached out to some of my coaching colleagues and am trying to figure out how girls coaches do this. The boys season is 14 weeks long, and this season is eight weeks long, so everything is so compressed. A fourth of our schedule will be done after this week, which is hard to fathom. We still have a lot to get through, we haven't talked about rules yet or things I normally have four to five days to talk about on the boys side. We are going to jam it in all next week and there is a lot going on right now."
Expectations remain high for Lady Eagles
The Zionsville girls golf team has become one of the top programs in the state in recent years.
They have finished on the podium at state four times in the past six years, with a state championship in 2017 and a state runner-up in 2018.
Simmons said that this will be another talented group, and he is just focused on taking it one tournament at a time.
"For me, coming into the girls program for the first time, the first thing I want to do is make sure these girls have a fun time and they are having fun playing together," Simmons said. "Then the second main goal is focusing on getting better every day and continue to improve. It is now just one hole or one round, the season is a marathon. We are trying to be the best team we can at the sectional and then go from there. There is a lot of talent here, but I don't know what that equates to yet because we haven't seen a lot of the other teams yet. We just want to be playing our best at the end of the year. We have a chance every year to be playing at state, and that's what we are focused on."
Zionsville returns two seniors have who helped the Eagles to three-straight podium finishes at state in Pancake and Thielbar.
Pancake has been all-state all three years, with back-to-back fourth place finishes at state as an individual. Thielbar has been all-state each of the last two years after placing in the top-10 at the state finals.
Kaltenmark was a key piece of last year's team as well, placing 13th at the state finals. Simmons said their leadership will be huge for the Eagles.
"I think it is going to be great for us," Simmons said. "I have talked with Annabelle and Abby, and Lauren too about making sure they step up to be leaders this year. This is their team and they can help with a lot of things, making sure the new and younger girls feel like they are a part of the team both emotionally and mentally, plus helping them in practice. So far, I haven't seen anything that makes me think those three won't be terrific leaders all year."
This be the final year for a long line of Pancakes in the Zionsville golf program, as Annabelle finishes up after her siblings Allie, T.J. and Trent have all come through the ranks for the Eagles.
Annabelle will go down as the best girls golf player in Zionsville history, and has made a name for herself playing big tournaments across the nation during the summer. She will be heading to Clemson next year to play golf.
While this is his first time in the girls program, Simmons said Pancake has some of the same characteristics as some of the top players he coached on the boys side like Adam Wood and Joey Ranieri.
"The first thing that stands out is their work ethic and the time they put into the game," Simmons said. "The same thing can be said about Abby too, and that's why she is going on to play Division I golf. We have had some great female golf players at Zionsville, but probably haven't had a better collection than we have had the last few years and Annabelle is right on top of that group. All those players are great ball strikers, and can strike it well every time and get it heading in the right direction. The other thing that stands out is their short game. All of those top kids we have come through her the last few years, their short game is impeccable.