Sports Editor

Harmony’s boys golf team made its first-ever trip as a group to the Class 3A state golf tournament last year. While they look to replace some swinging parts the Longhorns, along with St. Cloud, appear to again be the teams to beat in both the boys and girls Orange Belt Conference tournaments Oct. 8 and 9 at St. Cloud.

Their biggest opponent right now? Mother Nature, and she’s a scratch-handicap player, raining out practices and some matches this week.

Taylar Ling

St. Cloud’s Taylar Ling, the reiging Orange Belt Conference champion and County player of the year, hopes to lead the Bulldogs’ girls golf team to a district title and a place in the Class 3A state tournament.

Harmony

The Longhorns have a totally new look from that state-qualifying squad last year, as only senior Conlan Micher returns. They have new faces in Jackson Massey and Austin Price and a new coach, as former HHS basketball coach Steve Smith replaces the departed Mark Bhabha.

Smith says that since there’s a lot of season — that’s if the thunderstorms hold off and the team can get on the course — there’s a lot of time left to improve prior to the conference, district and regional tournaments.

“It’s very young team with three freshman in the top 5, and we hope to improve as season progresses, but they have great attitudes and the desire to be better,” he said. “I feel we should be a contender for OBC if our young players can come through.”

Coach Rob Hainlen’s girls team hopes to wrest the OBC team title away from St. Cloud, but will be able to crack at it with a lineup that includes five seniors — Mackenzie Wolf, Kaylee Edwards, Kloi Stine and returners Katie Greiner and Morgan Wolf — along with sophomores Alyson Nash and Katie White and freshman Kelsey Whaley.

Hainlen said no player has established themself as the No. 1 player — because they’re all shooting for that.

“What I love is that all of them want the position,” he said. “I would be hard pressed to say who will take the reigns. We are solid in play and when we have a dry day. I believe we will be sitting solid in OBC and post-season play.”

St. Cloud

Jim Endicott, the director of instruction at Royal St. Cloud, and Jeff Johnson work with the Bulldog teams.

The Lady Bulldogs are stacked, with their top six players from 2017 back, including OBC champion and district runner-up Taylar Ling primed to dominate in her senior year. Senior Allison Hilton and juniors Kierstyn Kelly, Brandi Bibeau, and Erin Maloney are also back.

“We have already seen in practice that any of these returning players can raise to the Number 1 spot on this team with all of their scores in the 40s,” Endicott said.

Juniors Natelie Chapman and Molly Lane, senior Isabelle Neira and freshman Mariel DeVictoria provide depth and are also trying to crack into the top five — and play very deep into the postseason.

“This season will be very exciting with the ultimate goal of competing in the state tournament at the end of the year,” Endicott said.

The boys team graduated its top talent from last year in Noah Endicott (Southeastern) and Jacob Johnson (Savannah State), leaving behind only freshmen and sophomores to cultivate.

Sophomore Jonathan Jenks is the lone returning player. Senior Joshua Snyder and sophomores Bryan Hernandez and Dylan Montoya and freshmen Tanner Allore, Eric Hernandez, Chad Knollinger and Carson Sanchez round them out, and Endicott thinks they can be pretty good.

“We are excited to see who becomes our leaders this season as the talent among our players is very even with most scores in our practice rounds within a couple shots,” he said. “We anticipate that these boys will win many matches in the regular season and compete for the team OBC.”

Osceola

The Kowboys, coached by Matt DeLorenzo, return quite a few players on each team.

Drake Evans, William Kossol, Gabe Gonzalez and Ryan Andrews will be in contention at the OBCs and districts, and Darren McCleery, Manny Beato and Rufino Quinones are pushing them for playing time.

Among the girls, six players return including postseason contenders Monica Olivera and Madison Woodard, Kara Jones, Allissa Patrick, Jacklyn Dougherty and Audra Thompson.

Gateway

Panthers Coach Larry Brutus starts the season looking for players to fill out a full team, but the ones he has to start the year could contend in the OBC and district tournaments.

Nicholas (senior) and Jonathon (freshman) Bonilla could be contenders, Brutus said, along with senior Damaris Rojas from the girls team. Juniors Vimalys Rivera and Erica Ledesma will also compete.

“It's an enthusiastic group that’s enjoyable to coach,” Brutus said.

Poinciana

Coach Reed Buckstead said the Eagles open the season with enough players —

Kevin Dos, Jorge Perez, Cris Cedena and Tony Tweed — to field a team score, and more guys may come swinging in.

The girls team starts the season with Rose Stansfield, Rebecca Ellis and Haley Causey.

Celebration

The basis of last year’s team, Annika Roland, Christie Beegan and Leilani Swider, are returning sophomores and have improved, said Coach John Hughes, a PGA teaching professional. They are joined by new sophomore Kiera Best, who returns to playing golf after a couple years of being away from the sport.

“By the end of the season Annika should have her game in top form to compete at the conference and district tournaments,” Hughes said. “Christie shows a lot of promise for this season and beyond. Leilani was the most improved golfer of last year’s roster and is a pure athlete.

“The goal this year for the team is to lay a foundation to build a solid program for years to come.  We only have these 4 ladies at the moment, but hope my background and coaching style of having fun while learning and succeeding will draw more ladies out this season.”

Mike Provost coaches a boys Storm team that was hit hard by graduation.

Tohopekaliga

Like the rest of the school, the Tigers’ first golf team is “Young and new,” Coach Bob Muzeka said.

In an odd twist, the No. 1 player on the boys team is freshman Morgan Beaulieu who will play on both the girls and boys team.

“She’s my best player, so why not?” Muzeka said, noting she’s the only girl that turned out.

The rest of the boys are junior Eli Johnson and freshmen Brian Mays and Eric Roehrick.

Liberty

The Chargers have just one golfer playing on each team. Samantha Jelley is the girl, but junior Evan Tyler, a newcomer who is capable of shooting around par, is the boy, and Coach Susan Bagley said he’ll be a contender to qualify for and do well at the state tournament.