At the same time, he saw the potential in his team and knew they had the ability to put everything together.
"I've been telling them all year they were better than they thought they were," Wheeler said.
He saw a flash of that at last month's Putnam County Tournament, when Eric Davis' 36 led them to a team score of 167, to take the county title.
The coach saw it even more clearly on Monday, when the Tiger Cubs roared their way to a 304, taking third in the Martinsville Sectional and advancing to Thursday's Center Grove Regional at Hickory Stick.
While everyone expected Avon and Plainfield to finish first and second (which they did), the talk was, it would be a dog fight for third place, with several schools in the fray. It looked like that at the turn, with Greencastle in third with a 152 and Martinsville (153) and North Putnam (154) right on their tails.
But the Tiger Cubs ran away on the back nine, defeating the Artesians by six strokes and the Cougars by seven. While afternoon rain prevented most players and team from picking up shots on the back nine, Greencastle seemed to deal with the conditions the best, finishing the back with an identical 152.
The sectional performance was a high point in a process Wheeler has been watching come together for a while now.
"They gradually began to understand how to stay in the game mentally," he said. "It's about staying in it a shot at a time and making smart decisions."
This is especially what he said he has seen from his team over the last week. Since last Wednesday, his team has defeated county rival South Putnam, won its own invitational, played a solid practice round at Martinsville and now have taken third in sectional at Martinsville.
It's been a torrid pace Wheeler hopes to keep up. He hopes to get in a practice round at Hickory Stick today, watch his son play in a tournament Wednesday and be back in Greenwood for regional on Thursday morning.
"It's a busy week," he said.
On the other hand, the quick turn around doesn't bother Wheeler. While his team has been playing quite a bit, they have been playing well through it all. The coach is confident his team will stay sharp.
"We're as ready as we're going to be," he said.
The Tiger Cubs were paced by the one-over 72 of David Lilly. Davis' 75 came next with Luke Crimmins close behind at 76. Wade Huber rounded out the scoring with an 81. Nick Pritchard shot an 82.
"They kept working at it and working at it and working at it," Wheeler said. "It's their prize. Congratulations go to them."
Wheeler was perhaps most proud because his team started the year with such uncertainty. Davis was out for a good portion of the season. Besides that, many of the remaining players were young, unproven. Just the same, Wheeler had his team ready when things really counted.
Opposing coaches were not surprised by the Tiger Cubs' success. They've come to expect it from Wheeler's teams.
"Greencastle played so well," North Putnam coach Keith Bodnarick said. "Donovan always has his kids prepared this time of year."
"I was very impressed by Donovan's team," said Cloverdale coach Doug Wokoun. "They played well and represented Putnam County and the West Central Conference very strongly. We wish them the best, along with J.J. Burns, at the regional Thursday."
North Putnam's Burns received well wishes because he will be advancing to regional as an individual. While only the top three teams advance, Burns' even-par 71 was good enough to advance individually. The three lowest scorers on teams not advancing also have the chance to move on to regional.
Burns' 71 was just one off the pace for medalist. Avon's Ryan Wegeng and Ronnie Harris, Plainfield's Zac Treash and Martinsville's Joe English all shot 70, prompting a four-way playoff for medalist honors. Harris claimed the honor with a birdie on the 10th hole. Burns, English and the Artesians' Jamison Crouch (74) will represent the sectional as individuals.
Burns' score, the lowest among county' players, led the Cougars to a fourth-place 310.
"J.J. played very consistently today," Bodnarick said. "He's been striking the ball very well."
"There's not a kid out there who works harder and not a kid humbler," the coach went on. "He's very deserving."
A bit of heartbreak came to one of the Cougars. Senior Eric Whitaker shot a 76, missing advancing to regional by just two strokes. It is the third consecutive year Whitaker has narrowly missed advancing.
"As happy as I am for J.J., I'm just as disappointed for Eric," Bodnarick said. "He's done so much for our program, he has nothing to be ashamed of."
Other scorers for the Cougars were Jeremy Redman with an 81 and Patrick Byrd with an 82. Austin Malayer shot an 85.
"As far as the rest of the team goes, they played as well as I expected," Bodnarick said. He said coming in, he thought his team's final score might have been good enough to advance.
"We shot a 310. What can you complain about?" he said.
Bodnarick also knows his team should be back near the top next season. While Whitaker is a senior, every other player on the team (varsity and junior varsity) is a junior. Such a veteran team would be a treat for any coach.
"I'm looking forward to it," Bodnarick said. "I'm going to enjoy every second of it."
For South Putnam, the year has been a roller coaster much of the time. Today was similar, with the Eagles having some trouble early and finding themselves unable to make up ground.
"You start with a few tough holes (at Martinsville)," coach Scott Ricke said. "We didn't play all that well to start, then spent the rest of the day trying to make up for those few holes."
"A 338, considering it was raining, wasn't that bad," he added. The score placed the Eagles eighth.
The Eagles, along with Cloverdale, played in a grouping behind those of North Putnam and Greencastle, thus having to deal with the weather through a greater portion of their rounds.
Ricke, though, wasn't making excuses for his team. He openly expressed the great pride he has taken in this year's team.
"The kids improved a tremendous amount this year. They grew as golfers and as young men," he said.
"Considering how far they've come, I've never been more proud of a group of guys. This is a truly special bunch," Ricke said.
Jon Weaver led the Eagles from the number two positions, shooting an 80. Ben Anderson's 83 was next, followed by Tyler Newby's 85. Cory Welty was the fourth scorer with 90, while Trea Boyce shot a 100.
"I'm really going to miss our three seniors (Anderson, Welty and Boyce)," Ricke said. "They provided tremendous leadership as golfers and with their character."
In Weaver and Newby, Ricke has a good starting point for next season. Now they need some help.
"We're looking for a few other guys to step up and take the open spots next year," Ricke said.
Cloverdale came in with a 342, placing 10th.
Michael Glassburn was low man in the Clover attack, firing an 81. Justin Hacker was next with an 84. Sean Rhine and Mike Wellington shot 88 and 89, respectively. Kevin Gregg had a 93.
Clover coach Doug Wokoun was pleased with his team's effort, but knew they could have done some things better.
"I was hoping for a better outcome, but I thought we played well for the most part," said Coach Doug Wokoun. "As was the case many times this season, course management was not our strength. We did some things pretty well, but not consistently enough to be a factor as a team or individually."
Looking at his seniors, Wokoun expressed great pride in how they have represented their school on the golf course.
"Kevin Gregg and Justin Hacker had good senior seasons. They were pretty consistent performers for us, and they will be missed," he said. "We need to find some people ready to step up and fill those spots. We also need to become a deeper squad. We had some young players show some promise at different times this spring, and they will have to work hard over the summer to improve their games."
While most of the golfers and teams are left to ponder next year, it is on to regional for Greencastle and Burns. The action begins at Hickory Stick at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Martinsville Golf Club
IHSAA Golf Sectional
Avon 283, Plainfield 301, Greencastle 304, Martinsville 309, North Putnam 310, Brownsburg 326, Tri-West 337, South Putnam 338, Cascade 341, Cloverdale 342, Danville 353, Mooresville 367, Monrovia 384.
Avon -- Ryan Wegeng 70, Ronnie Harris 70, Cam McKinney 75, Andrew Wegeng 78, Blair Webb 78.
Plainfield -- Zac Treash 70, Kyle Dell 76, Stephen Copeland 77, Doug Kinney 78, Matt Tinkle 79.
Greencastle -- David Lilly 72, Eric Davis 75, Luke Crimmins 76, Wade Huber 81, Nick Pritchard 82.
Martinsville -- Joe English 70, Jamison Crouch 74, J.W. Poe 82, Kyle Sanders 83, David Porter 83.
North Putnam -- J.J. Burns 71, Eric Whitaker 76, Jeremy Redman 81, Patrick Byrd 82, Austin Malayer 85.
Brownsburg -- Zach Roach 75, Jared Shields 77, Derek Owensby 86, Jacob Western 88, Chris Breslin 94.
Tri-West -- Trent Whittington 83, Jason Tanselle 83, Nate Redman 84, Steve Ricks 87, Tylan Thompson 88.
South Putnam -- Jon Weaver 80, Ben Anderson 83, Tyler Newby 85, Cory Welty 90, Trea Boyce 100.
Cascade -- Anthony Arthur 78, Daniel Gist 83, Ty Rosenbalm 87, Robert Russo 93, Adam Denton 96,
Cloverdale -- Michael Glassburn 81, Justin Hacker 84, Sean Rhine 88, Mike Wellington 89, Kevin Gregg 93.
Danville -- Levi Jones 76, Brock Scott 88, Andrew Lehr 94, Brad Merkley 95.
Mooresville -- Kevin Schneider 83, Grayson Swain 84, Brad St. Clair 93, Cody Dust 107.
Monrovia -- Evan Dillon 95, Tyler Raney 99, Kyle Everett 87, Levi Wingler 103.
Next match -- The Greencastle team as well as North Putnam's J.J. Burns advance to Thursday's Regional at Hickory Stick in Greenwood. The first tee times are set for 8 a.m.