by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — High expectations have been lingering around the Heritage High School girls golf team since the end of the 2012 campaign.
The Huskies won their last five matches to win the Cap 8 Conference championship last year. They head into this season looking to defend that title.
In just three years, the golf team became the first sports program at Heritage High to earn a conference title.
And with four of its top golfers returning and a strong freshman class, Heritage coach Ronnie Reitz feels that the skill level of this team may be better than last season’s squad.
“As a team, we’re up there with the best and we should be in contention to win the conference again,” Reitz said. “I don’t want to over-coach them; I just want them to play their games.”
Heritage’s success has grown from an initial team of four girls, who finished in sixth place in the league, to seven girls and second place in the Cap 8 the following year.
This season, the team has grown to nine golfers, working together and enjoying being teammates, according to Reitz.
“We have more players than normal but I like having nine on the team,” Reitz said. “I’m estatic about this year and I’m not going to worry about the scores, but the effort.”
“We have four strong freshmen and hopefully they will be the future of Heritage golf,” he added.
The Huskies top two golfers return to lead this year’s team. Senior Kendra Dalton and junior Rhea Bhatia both competed in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A state tournament.
Bhatia was named the 2012 Cap 8 conference player of the year while Dalton, also all-conference, finished as the third best in the league.
“The strength of Rhea and Kendra is the competition between the two of them,” Reitz said. “When they take to the course, they try to beat each other and they go neck-and-neck.”
“They are both very competitive, he added. “They’re good listeners and they give 100 percent all the time. What else can you ask for?”
Both Dalton and Bhatia agree with their coach that this year’s team should be much improved.
“I think we’ll have a very strong season,” Dalton said. “With the up-and-coming girls on the team this season, it will make us hard to be beat.”
Many of Heritage’s opponents don’t have solid one and two players as talented as Bhatia and Dalton, which will be an advantage to the Huskies.
“Both have matured and have become solid high school golfers,” Reitz said.
“My game is coming together and I’m starting to shoot low scores,” Bhatia said. “I’m excited about the season and our first match is home, which makes it more exciting.”
The short game, especially chipping, is Bhatia’s strength while Dalton said driving is her game’s strong point.
“I don’t miss many fairways, which gives me lots of birdie opportunities,” Dalton said.
“I’ve also spent many hours practicing putting and it’s paying off,” she added.
Filling the other three spots could be as competitive a process as the tournament themselves.
Junior Alex Karpuk returns for her third year and Reitz expects her scores to be a factor this season.
“Her scores could count for a lot of matches,” Reitz said. “She will be competing for the third spot.”
Reitz is also expecting good things from sophomore Hannah Whitt. “Like Alex, she will be shooting for a top-five position,” he said.
Also expected to battle for the top spots this season will be freshmen Kellie Faulkner and Rachel Swakopf.
“Kellie has the potential to move into the top five,” Reitz said. “She has a good drive off the ball and a good golf swing.”
“Rachel has a significant chance to contribute too,” Reitz added.
Heritage will open its season Aug. 26 at their home course, Heritage Golf Club.
“Each player knows what they need to work on,” Reitz said. “Time will tell as each game of golf is like a new day.”
“It tests your patience but I believe we will be fine,” he added. “This is a good group of girls and we are all looking forward to this new season.”