Derby girls’ golf is ready for a soft reboot after losing Emma Johnson to graduation.
Johnson, who was a four-time state qualifier and three-time state medalist, finished 12th last year at state before taking her talents southwest to Ottawa University in Arizona. Her departure left Derby with a bevy of young talent and an open spot at the head of the table.
“Not having Emma is a big loss, no doubt about it,” Derby head coach Tim Herrs said. “It’s really nice when you can go into a tournament knowing that you have a true No. 1. So the challenge for us this year will be trying to get the girls that we have returning to up their game, not so we can replace her score with one person but we can try to fill her shoes by committee.”
Luckily for Herrs and the Panthers, there are multiple players that seem up to the task of filling those shoes, starting with juniors Macy Truitt and Abbey Simonsen.
Both Truitt and Simonsen are coming off solid sophomore campaigns where they finished 12th and 14th at regionals on their way to a team berth at the state tournament at Salina Municipal. Now both have the chance to work together to lead this team for two years of high school golf.
“I’m actually really excited,” Simonsen said. “I’ve been practicing a lot since last year. I’ve been working on my long game a lot. Especially my aim. Last year I really struggled with that and it showed.”
Having to fill a leadership void is not a new position for Herrs. He was in the same spot several seasons ago and it was Johnson who stepped up and took over the team. Herrs is hopeful that one of the juniors will find their way to that spot sometime this season but he’s in no rush to push either of them to the team’s top spot.
“Really I’m expecting them to be more of a 1A and 1B,” Herrs said. “If that means that one of them has a really good week and one doesn’t then so be it. They’ll probably flip-flop for a while until they get comfortable in their roles.”
Also returning varsity-wise for Derby are senior Allison Keasey and sophomore Chloe Johnson, both of whom placed in the top 30 at regionals. Herrs liked what Johnson brought as a freshman and is anxious to see how her game will mature heading into her second year of varsity golf.
“As far as golf is concerned, she’s probably the best raw talent that we have on the team,” he said. “I saw some things at the end of last year … She was getting used to playing varsity and playing with girls older than her, which is always a big hurdle. Now I expect her to keep building on that.”
Herrs also kept several junior varsity golfers practicing after the JV season had ended last year and hopes that those girls will also make a jump heading into this year.
“They were showing signs of potential and I thought why not?” Herrs said. “They’ll be competing for a spot on varsity this year anyway and the things that I saw in those extra practices are things that would make them varsity golfers, so I’m interested to see what happens with them.”
The Panthers head into 2019 with eyes on their fifth-straight trip to state. For now though, Herrs is just focused on getting the chemistry and makeup where he wants it. The rest will come later.
“Our first goal will be finding our identity,” Herrs said. “When you have a player like Emma it’s a little easier because she sets the example for the rest of the team. Now it will be up to these girls who are left to figure out what kind of team they’d like to be. But over the past several years, this group has been really good about staying together.”
The girls will open their season on Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the Derby Invitational.