CHS golf coach hopes high turnout means lower scores

Leading 2019 player Gillespie tops 13 out for squad

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School's boys' golf team, in its sixth season (not counting canceled 2020 season) under the tutelage of head coach Jim Wheeler, is slated to open its 2021 season next Wednesday at home against Cameron.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

A year’s absence hasn’t diminished interest in playing boys’ golf for Chillicothe High School in 2021.

Sixth-year head coach Jim Wheeler welcomed 13 prospects – two more than the 2019 team had – to the start of practices early this month, including the top-scoring player from the most-recent Hornets links squad among five returnees.

“I’ve got a really interesting mix of guys with some experience – competition experience – and guys that are new to the program,” Wheeler told the C-T early this week, “and I’ve even got a few freshmen that are new to the game completely.

“It’s a really neat mix of kids.”

Like all CHS spring sports, the 2020 boys’ golf was canceled, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. That makes the handful of returning players a plus some, if not many, opposing teams might not have.

Pacing the batch of 2019 veterans is now-senior Colby Gillespie, a 2-years letterman whose 48.4 scoring average (per nine holes) two years ago earned him the Roger Cranmer Memorial Award for having the Hornets’ lowest average.

“Colby was our top golfer (in 2019) and played No. 1 spot a lot,” recalls Wheeler, “so I expect him to be at or near the top (of the lineup)… and I’m sure he expects that out of himself, too.”

Potentially challenging him for the top spot in the CHS lineup is classmate Spencer Shira, one of the other four returnees with Keagan Valbracht, Dalton Ripley, and Ethan Gabrielson. All are seniors.

Shira averaged 53.3 strokes per nine in varsity play two years ago and Ripley 56.5 in a mix of varsity and junior-varsity action.

Over half (seven) of this year’s baker’s dozen of Hornets golfers are freshmen. Wheeler sees some of them pushing for varsity lineup time, perhaps even early on.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of freshmen in those (top-5) spots,” he mused.

The lone sophomore or junior out is Garrett Anderson, an 11th grader out for the first time.

The lack of a 2020 season and the lineup turnover that could have on all teams makes handicapping the season an exercise in “flying blind,” but Wheeler notes that, within the Midland Empire Conference, he expects to see some top-flight foes, given that then-first-year MEC member Kansas City: St. Pius X won the Class 2 state championship and another private school – St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond – took the state crown in Class 1 the last time there was a season. 

“I’m sure they’re going to be ‘tough as nails.’ They always are,” he remarked.

Once past those two, the now-veteran Chillicothe coach hopes to see his squad challenge for a spot in the middle tier of MEC programs.

“I don’t expect us (to finish) anywhere near the bottom, but where exactly we stack up – that remains to be seen,” he commented.

How sharp the Chillicothe golfers are at season’s start might be negatively impacted by the wet, cold weather of the past week, but at least the first couple of weeks of preseason practices saw very nice weather which allowed unencumbered practices nearly every day, Wheeler related.

The golf Hornets are due to begin competition next Wednesday at home against at least Cameron. They’ll then have a week off before competing in dual-match competition against three other teams at Savannah on March 31.

At present, only three outings at their Green Hills Golf Course home are slated – the opener, an April 20 dual (or more) against Trenton, and the Thursday, April 22, Chillicothe Invitational Tournament.

Looking far down the fairway, classifications and district assignments for the sport have not yet been announced, but it’s possible – given their historical successes in the sport – that either St. Pius X or Bishop LeBlond or both – could wind up in the Class 3 district Chillicothe is expected to land in.