The Rolla golf team was put into an interesting situation this season.
One of the top golfers from last year's squad, Rosalia Meusch, decided to step away from the sport to focus on school and the Lady Bulldogs were in a bit of a pickle. They needed four players to be able to have team scores at matches and they were left with just three players. In steps Audrey Roberts. The junior joined the team late, so she hasn't been able to play in the first two matches of the season, but she and fellow newcomer Jesse Coverdell filled out the required four players. Neither of them had played golf before, but they've been eager to learn.
"Does mini golf count," said Roberts with a laugh when asked about her golf experience. "I joined on a whim. I heard that they needed an extra girl and I wasn't doing anything, so why not? I can learn a new skill, which it is. I'm actually really glad that I have not played in a tournament yet, I've been playing for like two weeks, so I think a little more experience will be better for me."
Coverdell has been able to to play in the Camdenton Invitational and the Crusader Classic already this season and has felt a little pressure to succeed after being thrown into varsity golf as a freshman.
"(I've felt pressure) a little bit," said Coverdell. "It's nerve-wracking, but my teammates help."
This group of four players has been a tight unit, which makes things easier for head coach Zack Nixon.
"I don't have to do much, if any, managing, they do it all themselves," said Nixon. "They're responsible, they're mature and they wanna be here, even if they're newer. I've got two girls with experience and two girls that are brand new and fresh, but they're all working really hard and I don't have to do any coaching in a disciplinary aspect, I just have to do technique, the rules of the game, the easy stuff and the fun stuff.
"They've really come together as a team and a squad," continued Nixon. "They're there to help one another."
Coach Nixon does have the benefit of having two returning players in junior Audrey Collier and sophomore Marley Toothaker. While Collier sometimes feels like she needs to be the leader on the team as the oldest returning player, this team tries to find a balance where everyone is just open with each other and working together.
"I sometimes feel that way, but I know they all kind of do their own things and people have told them different things, so I kinda try to keep my mouth shut most of the time and let coach tell them. But if they're going in the wrong direction, I will help them out," said Collier.
Toothaker added. "I think we're all very open with each other and we try to encourage each other a lot, so we're all sort of there for each other."
Toothaker was one of the last players standing for Rolla last season, as she and Meusch were playing in the Sectional meet in 2016. She said she definitely learned a lot about the mental side of golfing by playing in Sectionals.
"Well I definitely learned what having a mindset can do to your golf game because halfway through Sectionals I was thinking very negatively and I didn't really pull myself together," said Toothaker. "So I learned to just take it shot by shot and don't think about the overall picture, just think about what you're trying to do in the moment and focus on that."
Collier hopes she is able to make it to at least Sectionals this season and has already shaved 10 strokes off of her game from last season.
"I'd like to stay in the mid-80's pretty much and if I can do better than that, that's great," said the junior. "That's kinda what I want set for myself. Stay in the 80's."
Goals are a big part of Nixon's coaching approach. He wants his players to set goals, but he doesn't just want to set them at the beginning of the year and just forget about them. He plans to check in with how close his players are to reaching their goals and making sure they're constantly improving.
"I've been working on my Masters in positive coaching and I've already taken what I've learned from those courses and introducing it and implementing them into practice. One of the big things is that I've had goal setting in the past, but I'm taking it a step further this year and having a goal attainment program," said coach Nixon. "It's step by step, where you have process goals, which work towards your performance goals, which work towards your outcome goals.
"And then we don't just leave them at the beginning of the season," continued the Rolla head coach. "It seems like sometimes when you get into the middle of the season it's such a rush and it's so busy that you don't have time to refocus. So I'm taking that extra time and once every one or two weeks, we go back and revisit and use the data from scores...we can kinda use that to drive what we need to work on."
Coach Nixon thinks his players all have the chance to succeed this season with a mix of experience and inexperience because they all have the hunger to improve.
"I have no complaints about the work ethic with our girls, they've been amazing," said Nixon. "Audrey Collier worked hard all summer just non-stop. I saw her out here all the time, she was playing in summer tournaments. Same with Marley Toothaker. She made it to Sectionals last year and she came in without very much experience, but she just loved it and was driven. We're grateful to have those players back and we're looking forward to seeing where they get to.
"But also Jesse Coverdell is a freshman and I think she's gonna be one to watch. She's motivated, she works on the weekend and she shot a 117 in a tournament. Some people might go 'well that's not very good' but she's been playing for three weeks. She's a good natural athlete, coordinated, easily coachable," continued coach Nixon. "Audrey (Roberts) was an even later addition and she's devoted. We're just gonna have to spend a little more time to figure out how she'll do."
Toothaker's goal is simple. She made it to Sectionals last season and she wants to take the next step in 2017.
"I'm hoping to make it to State. That's sort of the goal I have in mind," said the Rolla sophomore. "So we'll see if I can accomplish that."
As for the newbies, they just want to see improvement throughout the season.
"I want to be able to shoot around 100 by the end of the season and just get better from there next year," said Coverdell. Roberts had similar goals, "Improvement. That's the goal. I know I'm not going to go out there and be incredible right away, because this game definitely takes practice, so improvement."
The girls golf season is a whirlwind of matches, as they cram a lot of golf into a little bit of time. On top of that, they've already had to change their schedule quite a bit. Their first home match was originally going to be against Camdenton on Tuesday, Sept. 5, but that was changed to a road match. They also flipped home and away matches with Waynesville, so the Lady Tigers won't play on their home course until Friday, Sept. 15. While 10 days doesn't seem like much, Rolla will play six times in those 10 days.