Similar to the prep boys golf landscape, Springstead enters the first week of regular-season girls golf action as the heavily favored team to beat in Hernando County.
The reasons are numerous for the Mariner Boulevard Eagles to again rule the nest.
Springstead completed a perfect 11-0 regular-season tour last season, featuring a 10-0 run against county teams.
This coming on the heels of 2010's magical 12-0 regular season – featuring a perfect 11-0 run against county opponents.
All told, Springstead opens the season riding a 23-match winning skein. The Eagles have captured 28-of-29 matches.
Springstead's last loss was to visiting Lecanto at World Woods Golf Club on Sept. 30, 2009, 218-227.
Moreover, after nine holes at The Heather Golf and Country Club in 2011, Springstead captured its fourth Hernando County championship in five seasons by seven shots, 195-202.
The good news for the Lady Eagle fans is bad news for their opponents – Springstead didn't lose a player to graduation.
Springstead is led by senior Megan Berube. Berube is a three-time All-County selection and the county's defending three-time Player of the Year.
Berube, who led the circuit with a 36.3 nine-hole average in 2010, again led the county in scoring average in 2011 (39.0).
As a sophomore, Berube advanced to states where she placed 14th out of 96 players behind a respectable 18-hole 83-74—157 total.
After finishing runner-up in districts as a freshman, Berube has earned low medalist honors across the past two seasons.
Yet Berube isn't a one-woman show. Senior Emma Betters is back for her fourth season. She's a two-time All-County pick from 2009 and 2011.
Betters concluded last season as the county's fourth-best player, averaging 53.9 per nine holes.
Betters, who also excels in soccer as an All-County goalkeeper, celebrated a rare hole-in-one during the Class 2A, Region II Meet last fall at the Palm Harbor Golf Club in Palm Coast.
Another familiar face is junior Kiki Schau. Schau ranked third on the Lady Eagles – just behind Betters – with a 54.8 average in 2011.
Like Betters, Schau is also a two-time All-County selection following her freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Also back in the fold are seniors Kearstin Yarbrough (70.5), Kendra Alexandre (86.0) and junior Kylie VanMeter (60.6).
The Lady Eagles are guided by eighth-year mentor Kathleen Long.
Long, the county's defending four-time Coach of the Year, could not be reached for this story before deadline.
Last fall, Nature Coast went 5-2 – both losses to Springstead (169-184 and 205-232).
The Lady Sharks finished runner-up in the five-team county meet, runner-up to Dade City-Pasco in Class 1A, District 8 Tournament at St. Leo University and fifth in the Class 1A, Region III at Ocala-Golden Hills Golf Club.
Nature Coast head coach Cheryl Paradis begins her fifth season by returning three starters from last season: seniors Kae Elliott and Cassidy Verdi, and junior Kaitlyn Glynn.
Paradis said she'll miss the services of junior Autumn McCullough (56.4), whose family relocated out of state, and Summer Vasseur (67.6) – who graduated.
McCullough played two seasons at Nature Coast after playing under Paradis at West Hernando Middle School.
"Autumn was a year-round player – it's a huge loss," said Paradis. "The other girls miss her so much. She was an unbelievable student, too. She was so well-liked by her teammates and friends, she'll be hard to replace."
The Sharks are again led by Elliott. Elliott, a three-time All-County selection, improved from her 2010 45.3 average to 43.8 in 2011.
Unfortunately, Elliott, who finished runner-up in scoring to Berube in 2010 (36.3-45.3), was edged by Central's Stephanie Rodney's 43.1 average for second.
"Kae has practiced all summer," noted Paradis building up the impeding duel with Berube and Rodney. "Kae looks at Megan as an inspiration. Her goal is to beat Megan. But she also knows Stephanie (Rodney) will have something to say about that, too.
"To me, it's a very competitive situation between three girls who have played against each other for years," added Paradis. "It's a win-win situation. All three encourage each other."
Verdi, who did not play in one varsity match in 2010, finished fourth on the team with a 65.9 average in 2011.
"Her game is shorter," described Coach Paradis. "She just tries to stay out of trouble (on the course). No matter what happens on a particular shot, she just focuses on the next. She definitely enjoys playing the game."
Like Verdi, Glynn did not play in 2010, and concluded last season ranked third on the team with a 59.5 average.
Coach Paradis believes the Sharks' season will hinge on the development of freshman Maddy Pickersgill, sophomore Taylor Zack and senior Ashley Roth.
According to Paradis, Zack enjoys playing baseball over softball, while Pickersgill is much like her older sister (Mallorie), who excelled in both tennis and soccer.
"Both these girls are athletes. What I like most? There's no fear in their eyes," noted Paradis. "I like that."
On the seasonal outlook, "We'd love to win the county tournament," said Paradis. "We were so close last year. We were within striking distance. I definitely think Springstead can be beaten, but we need everyone to do their part."
On the state series, "I'm not sure what Pasco or anyone else has back. On the other hand, I have no doubt that we'll be going to regionals. I've already scheduled the day off from work. The girls' team goal is to reach states," Paradis said.
For the Lady Sharks to be successful, "Our girls need to lower their scores," stressed Coach Paradis. "You can start in one place, but you need to get better and better. The scores definitely need to drop."
Central improved from 3-8-1 in 2010 to 4-5 in 2011.
The Lady Bears upset NCT for second in the county meet in 2010. Last year, Central dipped to third.
In ensuing Class 2A, District 5 Tournament in Marion County, the Lady Bears finished eighth out of 12 teams.
Though the team did not qualify, Central was represented in regionals by Rodney. Though Rodney carded an 18-hole 89 total, she did not qualify for states.
The year before in a near-identical situation, Rodney shot an 18-hole 90 total.
Rodney enters her fourth varsity season (she missed most of her freshman campaign due to an injury) as a two-time All-County selection
Rodney finished second in the circuit in scoring at 43.1 – an improvement from 2010's 46.5 average.
On the terrific competition between Springstead's Berube, Nature Coast's Elliott and Central's Rodney, "It makes for good competition," remarked Central's third-year head coach Vicki Weaver. "I think, the more the competition, the better everyone involved gets. I really think it's going to be really close between those girls."
Graduation was not kind to the Lady Bears, claiming: Samantha Glenny (59.0), Ashley Baril (62.6), Jillian Martinez (69.0) and Brianna Kibby (84.3).
The other returning player with any experience is sophomore Casey Baril (83.2).
On Baril, "She's definitely improved," said Coach Weaver. "Physically, she's always working on her game."
Though the Lady Bears have some new faces, some of the players have not completed their paperwork to become eligible.
"After losing four girls, the biggest issue is just replacing numbers," shrugged Weaver. "Losing four girls (to graduation) hurts our numbers."
Weaver did not duck which is the team to beat.
"Springstead has the bull's-eye on their backs," noted Weaver. "I don't think they lost anybody so I anticipate them having another good team.
"Nature Coast always gets girls to play; they always seem to have numbers," added Coach Weaver. "And Springstead has had the depth."
After only two practices, "We really don't know what we have yet," said Weaver regarding districts. "We're going to have to wait and see."
For Central to be successful, "We need to finish with 5-6 girls, play in nine matches and qualify someone to regionals," indicated Coach Weaver. "I'd like to see Stephanie go to states. She's good enough to go."
Due to lack of numbers, Hernando failed to field a girls golf team in 2010.
Last fall, under first-year skipper Casey Ellis, Hernando finished 1-6 thanks to a 215-232 nod over Weeki Wachee.
The Lady Leopards were edged by the Hornets for fifth in the five-team county meet and placed a distant fourth out of five teams in the Class 1A, District 8 Tournament in East Pasco County.
Of Ellis' eight-member roster last fall, half have not returned including: Shelby Black (71.8), Allysyn Fraccica (72.0), Courtney Stearns (84.0) and Britney Flannery (92.0).
Back in the fold are: junior Taylor Milligan (66.8), and seniors Amanda Miller (69.3), Alexis Owensby (69.6) and Ainsley Halladay (72.2).
Milligan, Miller and Owensby ranked 1-3 on the team in 2011.
According to Coach Ellis, newcomers include: senior Alexandra Ambrose, junior Eugenia Urso, sophomore Rachel Davis and freshman Lauren Moore.
The most talented of the Lady Leopard rookies is Urso – a foreign exchange student from Italy.
According to Ellis, Urso's "English is great. And she says she's played golf since she was 3."
If Urso is the natural number one player, the battle will be for number two.
Milligan, an All-County weightlifting selection, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during the spring and missed most of softball season.
She's been medically cleared to play golf, but has yet to be cleared to lift weights.
According to Coach Ellis, "Amanda (Miller) is a softball player first. Her mother just passed away so we're going to give her some space."
"I see good things from Owensby," declared Coach Ellis. "She took some (golf) lessons."
On Halladay, "She's one of those kids that enjoys playing the game," said Ellis.
On the new faces, "I like seeing the new faces. Even though they're mostly first-year players, I'd rather have them than not have them."
On the Lady Leopards' prospects, "We've only been on the course twice," noted Coach Ellis. "I think it's too early to tell how we'll do. It's all about getting better every day."
As far as the county competition, she said, "Springstead with Berube is still the team to beat. Now, Nature Coast is pretty tough with Elliott. I think it'll be real close between those two."
For Hernando to be successful, "We have to cut down on our strokes. I don't want to predict how we'll do, but I think we could surprise some people," stressed Coach Ellis.
In 2011, second-year Weeki Wachee finished 2-9 overall. That's was a quantum leap from 2010, when the program did not have enough females to fill a team.
First-year skipper Linda Rogers replaces Bonnie Kolling, who retired.
According to Rogers, of the Hornets' four varsity players from last fall, three are back: seniors Vanessa Moore (65.3), Sarah Reich (79.3) and Brittany Finley (88.3).
Only senior Kayley Lane (67.7) opted not to return.
Rogers, a physical education teacher at Weeki Wachee, hails from Houston. Rogers played soccer and softball in high school. She'll assist the soccer team and will also serve as head coach of the first-year varsity softball team.
According to Rogers, her current focus will be "on having a developmental year. We'll be concentrating on fundamentals. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
2011 Final Hernando County Girls Golf Honor Roll
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
RK NAME SCH YR MATCH AVG.
1. Berube, Megan SPG 11 16 39.0
2. Rodney, Stephanie CEN 11 12 43.1
3. Elliott, Kae NCT 11 12 43.8
4. Betters, Emma SPG 11 16 53.9