As Hernando County’s boys golf springs to action, the operative word this season is parity.
Each of the five county links squads has a solid No. 1, but there seems to be very little separation between the teams as they work their way toward the Oct. 14 Class 2A, District 13 Tournament at Hernando Oaks.
In 2013, Nature Coast Technical enjoyed what many pundits would call a stellar campaign on paper – finishing 13-3 overall including a spectacular 10-0 run against its county brethren.
With last year’s seven-team district meet set up on the Sharks’ home course, Silverthorn, it appeared set for a NCT title.
Instead, Springstead turned heads by tying the Sharks in regulation after 18 holes at 349 before winning it all together in twilight on a sudden-death hole.
The following week in the pressure-paced 2A-Region V Tourney at New Port Richey’s Fox Hollow, the Sharks imploded finishing eighth in the nine-team field.
Springstead finished third in the event and pushed senior Brazon Dixon to a rare state berth.
NCT graduated four seniors including three of its top five players: Brandon LaMondra, Nick Feola and Joe Powanda.
On the plus side for the Sharks, tenth-year NCT skipper Tom Brown returns what many believe is the county’s most credentialed linkster, senior Jake Arnett.
Arnett, who averaged 37.7 strokes per nine holes last season, is a two-time district champion and three-time All-County pick.
The one critical item, however, missing from his prep resume is a trip to states.
On Tuesday, NCT opened the regular season with a split, feasting on Dunnellon, 183-212, but falling to star-studded Crystal River in a tri-match at The Plantation, 151-183.
Arnett tied CRHS’ Kyle Kidd for medalist honors with a nine-hole 34. Interestingly, Arnett’s finest nine-hole round in 2013 was a 34 along the front nine of the 2A-13 Tourney.
Shark sophomore Glen Richard, who averaged 45.7 strokes last fall, carded a 49. Another sophomore Dan Wempe, who averaged 47.5 shots last fall, finished with a 51.
Leaning on its deep 13-member roster, NCT opened the season with six freshmen: Tyler Bismarck, Mickey Dono, Chris Felts, Griffin Morel, Andrew Nguyen and Brandon Riera; sophomore Zachary Gates; juniors Joshua Thorne and Logan Tenaro; and senior Cole Lanning.
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After falling to NCT during a pair of regular-season matches by 12 and 18 strokes, Springstead claimed its third-ever district title at Silverthorn.
The title was the Eagles’ first since 2008 at Summerfield’s Eagle Ridge Country Club when medalist Kevin Hubbard paced the Spring Hill linksters.
SHS’ other district crown was in 1990 behind Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year Danny Latoria.
The Spring Hill linksters will again be led by third-year mentor and SHS mathematics instructor, Greg Odachowski.
Odachowski, who replaced five-time Coach of the Year Sonny Long in 2012, was been voted COY by his peers the past two seasons.
In 2013, Odachowski’s team finished 6-5, but improved as the season went on.
Of SHS’ eight players in 2013, three (Player of the Year Dixon, Ryan O’Connell and Austin Loder) graduated while Steve Piazza opted not to return.
Three of the Mariner Boulevard squad’s five starters return including: seniors Ben Cash (43.5 average in 2013) and Brendan Pfent (45.8), along with sophomore Brett Maharaj (48.4). Cash is the team’s lone All-County returning player.
Sophomore Wyatt Van Meter (53.3) rounds out the returnees.
Filling out the roster includes: frosh Tyler Cash, James Floyd, Bradley Pearce and Cameron McMurray, along with sophomore Brice Fitzgerald.
“I see this as a young team,” described Coach Odachowski, who is 10-7 overall after two seasons at the helm. “The nice part is we’ve got a lot of room to grow. Ben’s little brother, Tyler, has looked impressive. He has some ability. I love the potential with this group; it’s much better than what it was, say, last year.
“My biggest concern is putting,” noted Coach Odachowski. “That’s the most important factor out here; it’s what shaves the most amounts of strokes. The number two thing is playing consistently.”
As far as the county race, Odachowski made no bold predictions. In fact, he lumped the area teams into a proverbial kennel.
“There are no big dogs here this year,” Odachowski said. “There’s not one dominant team among us. I’m really not worried about the big matches in the regular season. It’s more about being focused. Overall, despite our youth, I like our chances.”
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Last fall under first-year skipper Rodney Byrd, HHS’ linksters finished 4-5 during the regular season before placing third in 2A-13 and placing sixth in 2A-V.
More importantly, of the Leopards’ eight players, six return.
The biggest void created is the loss of four-time All-County selection Cody Montgomery. Montgomery, who averaged 39.0 last fall and was a four-time regional performer, and was the team’s go-to leader.
Additionally, sophomore Colby Ackerman (57.2) opted not to return.
The strength of the team lies with its county-leading six returning lettermen: seniors Bryan Mitko (47.2) and Daniel Merritt III (49.4); juniors Pierce Kimbrough (44.0) and Clay Everett (47.0); and sophomores Zayne Vasquez (46.1) and Cameron Price (53.8).
Byrd, the former Eastern Kentucky University gridiron standout, likes his team’s chemistry.
“These guys enjoy being around each other and playing together,” he said after beating Weeki Wachee on Tuesday, 176-214. “As far as their golf IQ – they know how to play the game.
“Our biggest concern,” cautioned Byrd, “is staying healthy. We’re not real deep. What I do like is we’ve got four guys that are within 2-3 strokes of each other.”
In replacing Montgomery, “Those are big shoes to fill, but Zayne (Vasquez) is stepping up,” Byrd said following Vasquez’s match-best nine-hole 40 on Tuesday. “He has the mentality to handle it.”
On HHS’ goals, “The kids have to put in the work,” insisted Byrd. “The kids can’t worry about their opponents. We’ve got to concentrate on conquering the course. We’ve got to play our game.
“We’ve got guys who can shoot in the low 40s,” added Byrd. “We’re working to be more consistent.”
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Short-handed Weeki Wachee dipped to 2-9 last fall and finished sixth in 2A-13.
Fourth-year mentor Craig Witte returns three of his four players from last season: senior Michael Rampino (42.0), junior Ben Doring (64.6) and sophomore Cameron McGee (60.3).
A noticeably deeper Hornets squad will include: frosh Tommy Bebout, sophomore Cameron Sereda, and juniors Logan Chute and Zach Peek.
The added numbers are a welcome relief to Coach Witte.
“Everyone knows Mike (Rampino) is our No. 1 and we have six number twos. Having seven guys on the team really helps us,” he said. “It helps build competition. The guys are trying to get better.”
Witte’s biggest concern is, he said, “Staying with our mental game. We’re talking about teenagers and sometimes they struggle being mentally strong and start worrying about other things outside of golf.”
In the county picture, “Hopefully, we can finish in the top three,” said Witte, who is 6-24 lifetime at WWHS. “Our bigger numbers will help us tremendously, but we still have to go out there and shoot well.”
Though placing high in the 2A-13 Tourney is at the top of most teams’ goals, WWHS would like nothing better than to see Rampino earn a prestigious state berth.
“The kid has worked so hard,” detailed Coach Witte. “We’d love to help him get there.”
“For us to be successful we need the guys to continue to get better each week,” Witte noted. “If they save 5-10 strokes a week, we’ll be competitive by districts. With our numbers this year, there’s a good chance that’ll happen.”
The 18-year-old Rampino, the school’s first-ever four-year starter and two-time All-County selection, said of his final campaign, “I played all summer. My goal is to win states, but to get there I have to play tournament by tournament.
“My biggest improvement has come from my short game and my mental approach.”
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Central High’s second-year mentor Tyson Ellis returns five of seven lettermen from last year’s 3-6 campaign.
The Bears are led by seniors Jans Tamayo (49.6), Joshua Ricchi (54.6) and Mark Chupcavich (56.7), and sophomores Phoenix Morey (49.7) and Alex Fredenburg (56.3).
The lone newcomer to the team is frosh Brett Treider.
“I think we’re definitely better than last season,” pointed out Coach Ellis, who also serves as the Lady Bears’ softball skipper. “The biggest question is, ‘Can we progress?’ My freshmen from last year have gotten stronger; you can see it in their distance on their drives.”
The team leader is Tamayo, who came back out for golf after getting injured prior to enrolling at CHS.
“Jans is our No. 1 guy; there’s no doubt,” said Ellis. “He lived on the golf course during the summer. He’s gotten better and better since he returned to the game.”
Like all the area teams, the Bears are seeking steady play.
“We’re looking for consistency,” identified Ellis. “The guys did well at times last year and lacked in others. Right now, I think we have three solid players, but that’s not enough to compete at this level. We have to get better in our chipping and putting.”