Senior captains Matt Brady, left, and Jeff Day lead the Dracut golf team on and off the course. Valley Dispatch/Gayle Simone
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METHUEN — In the last five years the Dracut High School golf team has made tremendous strides in the Merrimack Valley Conference.

“We’ve gotten to the point when we show up, other teams know they have to play well to beat us,” coach Ken Hughes said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Hughes, returning for his fifth season, gives all the credit to his players for the team’s success.

“I feel very lucky to have these players in the five years I’ve been here,” Hughes said. “We had a core group (of kids my first year) and these kids are carrying on that legacy. We’ve improved tremendously over the last five years.”

Hughes’ team, which finished last season with a 9-7-2 record, is off to a 3-2 start this year.

“We’re competitive in the league,” Hughes said. “But it’s a competitive league. I’m very proud of the effort the kids have put in.”

Hughes sees Andover, Central Catholic and Chelmsford as the top three teams in the MVC. “We have beaten Andover and Chelmsford once,” Hughes said. “We have never beaten Central.”

Hughes said Indian Ridge, Andover’s home course, is one of the toughest courses in the league, along with Haverhill’s course at Haverhill Country Club.

“It’s very difficult to win matches on the road,” Hughes said. “We don’t think of it as we’re playing (the other team); we play against the course.”

Ironically, neither Dracut nor Central has the advantage when they play each other because the home course is the same — Hickory Hill in Methuen.

Hughes and the other coaches around the league tend to have their best players play one another during matches. The Middies top three golfers are freshman Dan Murphy and seniors Jeff Day and Eric Ledbetter.

Though Murphy is younger than his teammates, Hughes pairs him on the course with co-captain Day.

“He’s got a way about him; he’s a very talented golfer,” Hughes said. “He takes pride in what he does and he’s been an excellent teammate. He and Jeff have become a good team at 1 and 2.”

Murphy, 15, started playing golf when he was 7 with his father Tim and grandfather Frank Clancy.

Being a freshman isn’t easy, but Murphy said he takes it all in stride. “It’s not too bad. I get the usual jokes, but that’s to be expected,” Murphy chuckled. “We’re a good team so it doesn’t matter what your age is. It’s about what’s best for the team.”

Day, 17, started his golfing career a bit later than Murphy. “I’ve only been playing since the eighth grade,” Day said. “One of my friends started playing and asked me to play with him and I did.”

Ironically, though an individual sport, golf truly is a team sport when you consider the fact high-school golfers don’t get the benefit of having a caddy.

“(The coaches) can’t give coaching advice during matches,” Hughes said. “The kids play in teams and the kids become assistants to each other.

“They coach each other on how to play a shot, distance, putting. It becomes a group effort and they coach each other. It’s more of a team sport than people would realize.”

The Middies have not won MVC golf championship, but Eric Karpinski won the 2005 MVC Individual Golf championship to put Dracut on the right course.