The Olentangy Liberty boys golf team replaced four players from last year’s lineup, but the expectations haven’t changed as the Patriots aim for a sixth state appearance and first since 2019.
Junior Carter Rutherford is the only returnee from last fall’s lineup at the Division I district tournament, where the Patriots finished third (297), missing out on qualifying for state by two strokes. Their score ended up being the fourth best in district rounds across the state.
“It was a horrible ending at districts,” Rutherford said. “I know that I have more chances to make it to states. Yes, it was disappointing not to make it to states, considering how close (we were) and how we played. That last hole, we were so much over par and we missed out by a small margin. But for me, I guess it gave me a little motivation to do better. This year, I’m expecting to make states.”
The landscape has changed this year because the top three teams in the Central District will qualify for state.
“We’re definitely excited about the three qualifiers,” coach Ryan Snivley said. “I would say there’s probably five quality teams for three spots. So, it’s going to be easier, but not easy to make it to state. If we shoot 297 like we did last year, we shouldn’t have any problem.”
Rutherford and senior Carson Meyer, who saw time on varsity last season, are the elder statesmen on a team that features three freshmen in Jackson Harris, Noah Andry and Holden Orofino. All five are capable of leading the Patriots in any given round.
“Everybody is doing their job filling in the shoes of the previous year’s (seniors),” Meyer said. “I had my ups and downs last year. For me, I’m the only senior on varsity. So, I’ve taken in the mindset that it’s my team to lead. I need to help out and do as much as I can to make sure that, even though these guys are younger, everybody is doing their job.”
The Patriots had their run of seven consecutive league titles snapped. They finished second (17-3) in the OCC-Central Division behind Upper Arlington (18-2).
“Because we have so much youth, we haven’t been as consistent as we’ve been in the past,” Snivley said. “But the young guys have the ability to go low. It’s just a matter of getting everybody to play well at the same time. Usually, we have one player that’ll be around par and we haven’t had any problem getting four scores in the 70s, which is key. That’s what you definitely want to have. It’s just a matter of getting two or three low scores instead of just one.”
Harris (74 average) was first-team all-league. Rutherford (76.75), Meyer (77.75) and Andry (78.75) were second-team all-league and Orofino (79.33) was honorable mention.
“We haven’t been playing our best,” Rutherford said. “We don’t have our ‘A’ game right now. I need to work on wedges and putting inside of 15 feet. I give myself so many opportunities for birdies and I just don’t make them like I should.
“I think sometimes I rush because I play really fast. My tempo on putting gets kind of quick and I tend to push the putts. I’m slowing down, trying to smooth my pace rather than going quick.”
Rutherford, Harris and Andry each shot a 75 to lead the Patriots to second (304) behind UA (300) in the fourth and final round of league play Sept. 14 at Apple Valley.
In the third round Aug. 31 at Denison Golf Club, Harris (74) led the Patriots (312) to first.
In the second round Aug. 17 at Darby Creek, Meyer shot a 72 to lead Liberty (305) to third behind UA (289) and Dublin Coffman (302).
Harris’ 71 led the Patriots (298) to first in the first round Aug. 10 at Turnberry.
“We’re better as a team than we are individually,” Snivley said. “So, we have four to five quality scorers. I’d rather have five quality, really good scorers where one player can go low at any time rather than having a consistently low player and then worrying about (the) fourth and fifth man breaking 80.”