Two-time Hernando County champion Ryan Nicoll's graduation last June from Sringstead High has created a void atop the local prep golf circuit.
Nicoll, a four-time All-County selection, went out with a bang guiding the Eagles to their fifth straight Hernando County championship.
Last fall, Nicoll fired an 18-hole, 2-under-par 37-33-70 to capture medalist honors at the county meet at The Dunes in Weeki Wachee.
In the subsequent Class 2A, District 5 Tournament at the Country Club at Silver Springs Shore in Ocala, Nicoll was crowned district champion behind a 1-over-par 73.
In the rugged 2A-Region II Tournament at the Ocala Golf Club, Nicoll's season closed with a 5-over-par 77. He was the county's lone representative in that event.
En route to Player of the Year laurels, Nicoll averaged a career-best 36.8 strokes per nine holes.
???The Spring Hill linksters will again be led by second-year mentor and SHS math instructor Greg Odachowski.
Odachowski, who replaced five-time Hernando County Coach of the Year Sonny Long in 2012, was voted COY by his peers last fall.
Odachowski's first team finished 4-2 in dual meets, captured the county meet and placed in a tie for fourth in 2A-5.
Nicoll's departure creates a huge void, but on paper the Eagles appear to be stable with four returning starters back in the fold: seniors Brazon Dixon (40.8 average in 2012) and Ryan O'Connell (49.3), and juniors Brendan Pfent (44.4) and Ben Cash (46.0).
Dixon is a returning All-County selection from 2012.
Additionally, both Dixon and O'Connell are both rare four-year starters.
Five Eagle newcomers include: freshmen Bryce Doskoez, Brett Maharaj, Steve Piazza and Wyatt Van Meter, and senior Austin Loder.
"So far, I'm very happy with my first impressions of this team," described Coach Odachowski. "This group all makes good contact."
On dealing with replacing the loss of Nicoll, "The encouraging thing is this group's enthusiasm," remarked Coach Odachowski. "It's a young group of guys overall, who want to play and are willing to be coached.
"I haven't seen Brazon (Dixon) play yet, but if he keeps his head on straight, he's among the top three players in the county," added Coach Odachowski. "The guy who has impressed me is Pfent, he's striking the ball so much better."
Playing in a newly realigned 2A-13 with the other four Hernando County schools plus Hudson and Fivay, "It'll take a lot to finish in the top two in regionals," noted Odachowski. "We've got to make a lot more putts in districts - we gave away too many shots last year.
"If we keep it together we should be OK in districts," explained the Eagle mentor. "We're definitely going to miss the consistency that Nicoll brought to the team every match. With him gone, we need more teamwork from all the other guys. Hopefully, each guy can lift up everyone else."
On whether SHS can six-peat among the county squads, "I wouldn't say we're the hands-down favorites," pointed out Coach Odachowski. "The other teams (in the county) have improved."
???In 2012, Hernando's Kevin Magilligan concluded his second season at 4-9-0. Across two seasons, Magilligan finished a combined 9-14-1.
Of the Leopards' seven varsity lettermen in 2012, five return - all except graduated senior Brandon Lawson and Travis Ritter.
HHS placed third in last year's county meet and finished fourth in the 1A-8 Tournament at The Dunes.
The Purple and Gold are again expected to be led by Cody Montgomery, a rare four-year starter and three-time All-County selection.
Montgomery, who carded an 18-hole 77 in the county meet, followed with a 3-over-par 75 in the 1A-8 Tourney in Weeki Wachee.
As the Leopards' lone representative in the rugged 1A-III Meet at Saddlebrook, Montgomery failed to advance to states with a 16-over-par 88.
Montgomery finished second in the county in scoring average behind Nicoll, 36.8-38.9.
Four other returning Leopard lettermen include: juniors Daniel Merritt III (47.9) and Bryan Mitko (53.4), and sophomores Pierce Kimbrough (49.0) and Clay Everett (49.9).
Former Eastern Kentucky University football standout Rodney Byrd has replaced Magilligan as head coach.
Coach Byrd rounded out his current roster with the addition of four frosh: Colby Ackerman, Jacob Dennison, Cameron Price and Zayne Vasquez.
Vasquez is the nephew of HHS alumnus and former Pasco High golf skipper Tony Vasquez.
Byrd, an all-around athlete, says he's played golf since he was 15 - so he's no stranger to the game.
"We've got some work to do," noted Byrd. "My ship runs a little different than the last. It's all about doing the little things the correct way. I want our kids to be disciplined.
"We're not going to dwell on the past when we're on the course. If you hit a bad shot or finish a bad hole, forget about it and move on," said Byrd.
On his team's outlook, "I'd say it's promising," noted Byrd. "Our guys are averaging in the mid-40s in practice - that's pretty decent. But the key is to do that during the (regular-season) matches."
On fueling Montgomery, "We're working on his consistency," said Byrd. "We want to keep our emotions in check shot-by-shot. I expect Cody to be our leader on and off the course."
With the graduation loss of Lawson, who'll fill in at No. 2?
"Right now, that's the $100,000 question," said Byrd. "We want our guys to compete every day. Right now, I'd say we have three kids - Pierce, Daniel) and Zayne - battling for No. 2."
???Hernando County's deepest program - Nature Coast Technical - has ridden a rollercoaster the past three seasons.
The Sharks, who finished 2-12-2 in 2010, improved to 9-7-0 in 2011. Last season, NCT dipped to 6-9-0.
Head coach Tom Brown, the county's longest-tenured skipper beginning his ninth year, returns nine lettermen from last year's 12-man roster.
The Sharks are led by a two-time All-County selection, junior Jake Arnett.
Arnett, who led the Sharks in scoring in 2012 at 39.0, finished third in the local circuit behind Nicoll and Montgomery.
Arnett is a defending district champion from 1A-8 after firing a 1-under-par 36-35-71 total at The Dunes.
At the rugged 1A-III Meet at Saddlebrook, Arnett failed to qualify for states despite a 5-over-par 77.
Though Arnett is the Sharks' undisputed leader, NCT will field a team featuring a county-high six seniors: newcomer Nick Feola along with Joe Powanda (45.0), Brandon LaMondra (53.6), Erik Carlson (53.7), Marshall Aske (59.8) and Marcus Porcu (62.0).
Also back in the fold are: junior Cole Lanning (53.0), sophomores Dan Wempe (52.3) and Adam Rawson.
Besides Feola, other newcomers include: freshmen Zachary Gates and John Richard, and sophomore James D'Amico.
After scanning his roster, "Our depth definitely helps us," explained Coach Brown. "The more the competition, the better the chances of pushing some of our guys."
According to Coach Brown, Arnett is not only the team's best player, but the county's finest linkster.
"Even if Ryan (Nicoll) were around, I think Jake would give him a run for his money," noted Brown. "Last year at this time his swing was all over the place. He had a 45 early in the season. I see more consistency coming from him this year."
On who is the county's best player, Brown said, "With Cody's (Montgomery) father passing last summer, we didn't see the best in his game. He was obviously affected. To me it's between Jake, Cody and maybe Brazon (Dixon). To me the county's best player never thinks about being No. 2."
With the graduation loss of Mike Demaria (44.5), there's an opening for the No. 2 spot for the Sharks.
"To me, Joe (Powanda) is our clear-cut No. 2 player. Feola could be up there, but I'm not sure if he's ready to score (that low)," pointed out Coach Brown.
"Seeing our players shoot consistently under 40," remarked Brown on his team's goals. "Shooting between a 300-320 will give us a super chance of winning at districts. I think right now, we're seven strokes better than we were last year."
On the Sharks' tough schedule, "We've got the usual matches lined up with Saddlebrook, Crystal River and Citrus," said Brown. "Our goal is to win a district title - it's something we've never done.
"Ultimately, we'd love to go to states, there's no Saddlebrook or Crystal River in our region this year," Brown detailed. "This might be our best chance to go to states."
???After a winless (0-6) inaugural campaign in 2011, Weeki Wachee improved to 4-9 in 2012.
The Hornets placed fourth out of five teams in the county meet and seventh out of eight teams in the 1A-8 Tourney.
WWHS' finest player, Mike Rampino, who shot a 77 in districts, became the first Hornet regional qualifier. At Saddlebrook, Rampino carded an 18-hole 99.
Rampino, a junior, who finished fifth in scoring average (44.4) in 2012, is a returning All-County selection.
The only other returning letterman is senior Christian Braz (57.2). Hornet newcomers include: senior Morgan Koons, sophomore Ben Doring and freshman Cameron McGee.
WWHS' third-year skipper Craig Witte is also dealing with the loss of his "home" course The Dunes. At least for this season, the Hornets will be playing at nearby GlenLakes.
"GlenLakes isn't really our home course, because we're new to it, too," explained Coach Witte.
On his initial impressions, "These are all good kids; all easy to talk to, which makes my job a lot easier," noted Witte. "I'm not a golf pro. My job is to keep the kids playing the sport."
On the revamped 2A-13, "I like it because it's closer and more local. It's better than driving two or more hours," Witte said. "At this point, I think Nature Coast would be the favorite and that's without knowing anything about Hudson or Fivay."
On Weeki Wachee's goal, "Right now, hopefully we're in the middle of the pack," said Witte. "We'll know more after we see some people play. Our team goal is to compete and our individual goal is to push a guy or two further into regionals."
As far as Region V Tournament at Fox Hollow, "We know Mike (Rampino) has made it his goal to reach states," said Witte. "He got a taste of regionals last year. He knows he's our leader. He's an upperclassman now; he takes it (golf) serious."
???Central High's softball coach, Tyson Ellis, was recently tabbed as CHS' golf mentor.
Last fall, first-year skipper Mark Weaver suffered through a 0-10 campaign.
The Bears, who at one point captured seven county titles in eight years, have fallen on lean times, last year placing fifth in the county meet and 12th out of 12 teams in the 2A-5 Tourney in Marion County.
Like Springstead, CHS only played with five linksters last fall.
Of those five, two have returned: juniors Tyrone Hill (56.7) and Mark Chupcavich (67.1).
According to Coach Ellis, complicating matters: the Bears' finest player last season, Joshua Ricchi (55.9), is ineligible.
According to Coach Ellis, Bear newcomers include: freshmen Alex Fredenburg and Phoenix Morey, and juniors Dakota Fackley and Michael Sherman.
With the recent closure of its home course at The Dunes, CHS' team has relocated to Hernando Oaks.
"At least we've got a great place to play," noted Coach Ellis. "At this point, I'm new to the sport and the guys. I'd like us to be competitive and work hard by the time districts rolls around.
"Our team goals are simple: we want to hit a few fairways and some greens. Just like a lot of the guys, I'll be learning, too."
2012 Final Hernando County Boys Golf Honor Roll Stats
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
RK NAME SCH YR MATCH AVG.
1. Nicoll, Ryan SPG 12 12 36.8
2. Montgomery Cody HER 11 16 38.9
3. Arnett, Jake NCT 10 23 39.0
4. Dixon, Brazon SPG 11 10 40.8
5. Rampino, Michael WW 10 19 44.4
5. Pfent, Brendan SPG 10 9 44.4
7. Demaria, Mike NCT 12 23 44.5
8. Powanda, Joe NCT 11 23 45.0
9. Cash, Ben SPG 10 10 46.0
10. Lawson, Brandon HER 12 15 46.9