On Monday, two venues will feature five Hernando County teams in the first step of the state series.
Three county teams – Hernando, Nature Coast and Weeki Wachee - will return to The Dunes Golf Club, participating in the expected eight-team Class 1A, District 8 Tournament beginning at 1 p.m.
The top three teams and top three individuals not associated with those three teams will advance to the Oct.22 Class 1A, Region III Tournament at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel.
Two other local programs, including defending county champ Springstead and Central, travel to Marion County's The Country Club of Silver Springs Shore in Ocala for the expected 12-team Class 2A, District 5 Tournament beginning at 9 a.m.
Only the top three teams and top three individuals not associated with those three teams will advance to the Oct.22 Class 2A, Region II Tournament at Ocala Golf Club.
The ultimate prize for all five area teams is an invite to the 82nd annual FHSAA Finals set Oct. 30-31 at two venues in Lake County.
After splitting the regular-season series against Nature Coast, Hernando was hoping for at least a second-place finish during last Monday's Hernando County Championship at The Dunes.
The Leopards, however, suffered an up-and-down 18 holes, finishing third. To no surprise, Springstead won the event for the fifth straight time with a solid 320 total.
The biggest surprise was Nature Coast nudging Hernando for second place, 345-347.
The Purple and Gold, which finished 53 strokes behind Crystal River last fall in the 1A-8 event, understands the Pirates return every player Monday to the Weeki Wachee course minus Matt Mullarkey.
In 2011, second place went to Pasco, which solved Hernando, 349-363.
"I don't think the Pirates are as good without Mullarkey," pointed out the Leopards' second-year skipper Kevin Magilligan. "They'll shoot a 320 or less with whoever they bring. They're good golfers."
The Leopards hope to improve on their third-place finish behind three returning starters. Last fall, Hernando topped Nature Coast by 21 strokes to earn the final team berth for the 1A-III Tournament.
Once again, the Leopards enter districts led by junior Cody Montgomery, the defending district champion. Montgomery placed third this past week in the county meet behind an 18-hole 77 total.
Montgomery arrives as the county's number two scorer averaging 38.3 shots per nine holes – as only senior Ryan Nicoll of Springstead (36.5) is better.
Montgomery's teammates include: senior Brandon Lawson (47.5), freshman Pierce Kimbrough (48.2), sophomore Daniel Merritt III (48.5) and freshman Clay Everett (50.2).
Montgomery (75), Lawson (99) and Merritt (100) each experienced the nuances involved with pressure-packed district and regional golf last fall.
"Right now, I'd say we're hit or miss," explained Coach Magilligan on whether the Leopards advance to regionals. "I expect Cody to be near the top of the leaderboard – that's what he gives us every time he's out there. I would expect nothing less on Monday.
"Daniel had a great match (on Monday). We need the same this week," added Magilligan. "The key for us is Brandon (Lawson) and Pierce (Kimbrough) shooting a little better. They're both capable of putting together a fine 18-hole round.
"Our goal coming in is to improve on last Monday's score (347) by 10 strokes," emphasized Coach Magilligan. "Knowing this is districts hopefully lights a fire on our team."
As far as returning to The Dunes, "I really think we'll be much more comfortable with the course come Monday. I think it helps the boys understand the course by playing on it under championship conditions," he said.
As far as the keys to success, he added, "The big issue is which players stay out of trouble (on the course) and if they get in trouble, how do they handle it?"
Nature Coast (6-9-0), which closed out its regular season Thursday with a blistering nine-hole 163-208 win over Weeki Wachee at The Dunes, wants nothing better than to erase the memories of last fall's fourth-place 1A-8 finish.
The Sharks, who improved by 24 strokes in Monday's county tourney, want to make amends for their 384 total at districts from a year ago.
With Crystal River the clear-cut favorite, that means three teams (Hernando, Nature Coast and Pasco) will be locked in a dogfight for the two remaining regional team berths.
"Crystal River is solid. They're so deep, they've got five guys who could all break 40," said Nature Coast skipper Tom Brown. "They're that good.
"Then I see three teams that are evenly matched. Any one of those three could advance (to regionals)."
On what could be the difference, "I saw a couple of our guys take a few shots off on Monday. They didn't focus or concentrate during the entire match. That's all it takes at this level," shared Coach Brown. "All I ask my guys to do is give 100 percent on every shot and don't concede anything."
Should the Sharks get upset in the team standings, Coach Brown believes three of his players could still earn regional berths.
"We want to take the whole team to regionals," said Brown. "But if that doesn't happen, I still think we'll be well-represented (in regionals)."
The ringleader for the youthful Sharks is sophomore Jake Arnett. Arnett, who finished as county runner-up on Monday behind an 18-hole, two-over-par 74, arrives averaging 39.5 strokes per nine holes.
Arnett's teammates include: senior Mike DeMaria (44.6), junior Joe Powanda (44.8), freshman Dan Wempe (51.8) and junior Brandon LaMondra (52.0).
The Weeki Wachee Hornets (4-9) return three starters from last year's ninth-place team in 1A-8: Michael Rampino, Christian Braz and Ty Ennis.
Rampino arrives at districts tied for fifth in the county scoring race at 44.4.
Just like Hernando and Nature Coast, Springstead is no shoe-in to reach regionals.
In a district featuring defending champion Lecanto, always-tough Citrus, Belleview and Ocala-Forest, the Eagles understand it'll be a crowded field in 2A-5.
Last fall after Lecanto's ridiculously low 307 winning total, the next four teams were separated by five shots across 18 holes.
"It was nice to win the county again," explained the Eagles' first-year skipper Greg Odachowski. "Knowing the course helped. Nicoll knows The Dunes like the back of his hand.
"Fortunately, (Brendan) Pfent also had an outstanding round, too. He was amazing," commented Odachowski. "Looking back, our guys responded to the challenge of a big meet. Now, we've got to do the same on Monday."
On the Eagles' chances to advance as a team, he added, "There's no need for extra pressure. I just want the kids to go out and have some fun and just play the best they can."
After Nicoll's county-leading 36.5 average, comes junior Brazon Dixon (40.5), the sophomore Pfent (44.4), sophomore Ben Cash (46.3) and junior Ryan O'Connell (48.0).
Nicoll (78), Pfent (88), O'Connell (97) and Cash (104) are all returning starters from last year's fifth-place 346 total.
Central (0-10-0) slipped to fifth in this past week's county tourney. The Bears are paced by senior Joshua Ricchi (55.6).
Senior Tyrone Hill (56.2) is the lone returning starter from last fall's eighth-place 2A-5 squad.