HCHS golfers ready for breakout season in ’22


The Harlan County High School golf team includes, from left: Brayden Casolari, Cole Cornett, Matt Lewis and Evan Simpson; not pictured: Alex Creech, Parker Short, Ethan Simpson and Caleb Rose.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Coming off perhaps the most successful golf season in school history last fall, the Harlan County Black Bears have even higher expectations this season with all their key golfers back with a year of experience and maturity.
“Golf is generally an individual sport. But this season we are adopting a 100 percent team first mentality,” Harlan County coach Greg Lewis said. “We have a group of kids who are fully willing and excited to sacrifice the individual accolades to chase the team championship we were so close to last year. I’m blessed to have such a great group of kids to work with, and I’m excited to see where we can go this year.”
Lewis admits last year’s team, which finished second to Middlesboro in the Pine Mountain Golf Conference, exceeded his expectations.
“Having a full team for the first time last year, I thought if we could contend for a win or two it would set us up for some success this season. These guys exceeded those expectations and then some,” he said. “We had two wins, six second-place finishes (three of those by a total of five shots), and was one bad nine hole day away from a conference championship. I have everyone back for this season, so I’ve got some really high expectations for this year.”
Matt Lewis, a senior, is expected to serve in.a leadership role once again.
“Matt Lewis is finally healthy after battling a back injury for most of last season. Matt’s got all the shots, his ball striking has improved greatly, and his short game is second to none,” said the HCHS coach of his son. “He’s figured out how to think his way around a course and he has put in the work to build a complete game. I’m definitely looking for a few wins from Matt this year.”
Freshman Brayden Casolari is one of the top young golfers in the state after a spring and summer of playing in multiple junior tournaments in Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Brayden Casolari is starting his third season for us,” Lewis said. “He’s had a lot of success on various junior tours the last few years. He is very long off the tee and his ball striking has gotten better every year. As he learns to manage his game a bit and think his way around some of these courses we play, I think he will really put up some low numbers.”
Cole Cornett, still only an eighth-grader, had a breakout season last fall as he held his own against high school golfers across the region.
“Cole Cornett is starting his second season with us. Cole is a kid who doesn’t do one particular thing exceptionally well but he does everything well,” Lewis said. “Once Cole’s body fills out and his strength catches up to his skill, he has potential to be a future regional champion. I expect to see Cole bring home a few wins this year.”
Alex Creech, a sophomore, was also a key member of last year’s team.
“Alex is a level-headed kid who knows his game and plays to his strengths,” Lewis said. “He’s another kid who knows how to get around a course well. He won his flight earlier this year at the LIT and definitely has the ability to win matches for us this season.”
Evan Simpson, a sophomore, rounds out the top five for the Black Bears in team competition.
“Evan Simpson is going to fill the five spot. He’s literally finishing his first full year as a competitive golfer. The improvement he’s made in his game is amazing. I didn’t recognize him the first time I saw him playing this year,” Lewis said. “He has obviously spent the time working on his game and body since the end of last season. I’m really excited to see how low he can go this year.”
Simpson’s brother, Ethan, could also play a key role.
“Ethan Simpson is going to focus on basketball but is going to come out and play a few tournaments with us,” Lewis said. “Like Evan, he’s just finishing his first full year as a competitive golfer. Both Ethan and Evan are a coach’s dreams. They are dedicated to their sports and not afraid of putting in the work!”
Parker Short, a junior, is back for his second season with the Bears.
“Parker is the epitome of Ben Hogan’s ideal that the secret to golf is found in the dirt,” Lewis said. “He came out for the first time last year and had some holes in his game. He went to work and has completely changed his game. Once he gets some tournaments under his belt he will definitely start putting up some low numbers.”
Caleb Rose, a senior, rounds out the roster after an impressive summer on the academic side of being a student/athlete.
“Caleb Rose has represented us very well this summer off the course as he was a Governor’s Scholar,” Lewis said. “Now that he’s back home, he just needs to get his game in shape and he will be ready to get on the course soon.”
The Bears opened the season with a second-place finish in a tournament at Middlesboro last week.