The early portion of the girls golf campaign did not go well for Greenwood, despite returning the top four players from a team that had advanced to the regional round the last two years.

Thankfully for the Woodmen, it’s a long season, providing plenty of time to get things in order. Now, disarray has given way to calmness and confidence, and Brittany Runge’s squad heads into today’s New Palestine Sectional at The Links Golf Club believing it can come home with its first sectional championship in 17 years.

“After hitting county and conference these last two weeks, we’ve been like, ‘Hey, we can actually do this,’” said senior Maecee Terhune, the team’s No. 1 player. “We’re beating teams that we thought we might be able to, or we’re right there with them, so I think that’s helped us see that, ‘Hey, we have a good chance at this.’”

Greenwood won three consecutive sectional championships from 2000 to 2002 but has not claimed one since.

Terhune, Taylor Watson and Maeci West were all in the lineup as freshmen in 2016, when Greenwood finished one stroke shy of advancing to regional. The Woodmen have managed to make it out the last two years, finishing second in the sectional to New Palestine both times.

After seeing her team close the gap with the Dragons from 54 shots in 2017 to just 17 last fall, Runge believes that the elusive championship is within reach this time around. That belief is rooted in the experience that the Greenwood lineup possesses — in addition to the three seniors, sophomore Maura Guilfoy played in the No. 2 spot at the regional a year ago.

That “been there, done that” vibe has helped the Woodmen stay level-headed on most days.

“I don’t have major blowups,” Runge said. “We don’t play well sometimes; that happens. But we don’t have the crying … that kind of stuff. We have things that we can control a little better, which is nice, and with experience, hopefully they’ll be able to show that in their golf scores.”

Guilfoy cited fatigue, brought on in part by school and the golf season starting around the same time, was cited as one factor in the bumpy start. She says that some team bonding activities helped get the Woodmen energized and back on track.

Additionally, she says, having a few more 18-hole invitationals on the schedule should allow the Greenwood players to handle the long postseason rounds today and beyond.

“It does take a long time to get through,” Guilfoy said, “and you have to really have mental endurance and physical endurance just to get through that, so I think experience helps.”

The host Dragons remain the team to beat until proven otherwise, and Greenfield-Central will also be a threat in what shapes up as a fierce battle for the three regional berths.

Securing any one of the three is the top priority for the Woodmen, but given a choice, they’d obviously love to drive away with a plaque in hand. Runge, who admits to being “a little bit worried” back in early August, feels much better about her team’s prospects now.

“My goal is still to win it, but I think New Pal is going to give us a run for our money,” she said. “If we can keep our top five in a good realm, close to each other, they can do some damage. So we’ll see how we show up.”

“If we have a good day and play well,” Terhune added, “we’ll be right there with them.

Scouting the sectionals

A look at today’s girls golf sectionals involving area teams (all three are scheduled to start at 9 a.m):

Whiteland Sectional

at The Legends (par 72)

Teams competing: Center Grove, Franklin, Whiteland, Beech Grove, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Shortridge, Southport

What to expect: Realistically, a two-team race. The Trojans and Grizzly Cubs were 62 strokes clear of the field last year, and the two squads have again been among the best in the state this season. Each has beaten the other more than once, so whichever side happens to play better today will take this round. The battle for the third regional spot could be an interesting one, with Perry Meridian perhaps the favorite. Whiteland’s Allie Watson and Kierra Mitchell could factor into the individual race.

New Palestine Sectional

at The Links (par 72)

Teams competing: Greenwood, Greenwood Christian, Eastern Hancock, Greenfield-Central, Knightstown, Mt. Vernon, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville, Southwestern, Triton Central

What to expect: The Woodmen have finished second each of the last two years and have their sights set on a first-place finish this time around. Just 15 shots separated second through fifth places last season, so the competition for the three regional spots should be fierce, with the host Dragons and Greenfield-Central likely Greenwood’s toughest competition. GCA’s Ashtyn Witte qualified for regional as an individual a year ago; she and teammate Sophia Valant should have a chance to do so again.

Bloomington North Sectional

at Cascades (par 71)

Teams competing: Edinburgh, Indian Creek, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Brown County, Edgewood, Martinsville, Owen Valley

What to expect: Martinsville ran away with the title a year ago and should be at or near the top again, with Bloomington South probably having the best chance of knocking the Artesians off. Indian Creek finished nine shots back of third-place Brown County last fall and could well contend for that final regional berth; if not, look for Jacqui Button and Hannah Emenhiser to be in the individual mix for the Braves. Edinburgh’s Morgan Calhoun could also advance with a good day.