ST. PETERSBURG — It seems unfair, but reality dictates that the 2010 golf season for the Northside Christian girls team will be judged strictly on the Mustangs’ ability to win a state championship.
For Northside, which hasn’t missed the state tournament since 2001, this year represents the Mustangs’ best chance at a title to go along with the one they won in 2004.
The senior class features three of the area’s brightest stars, A.J. Newell, Michelle Butler and Danielle Grace. Newell and Grace have been in the program for five seasons. Butler is spending her fourth year with the Mustangs.
A.J.’s younger sister, Anna, a freshman, could be the best golfer in the county next year once A.J. leaves to continue her career at the University of Tennessee.
But Northside’s players, along with coach D.J. Jackson, know this year could be the last in a phenomenal run that has seen the Mustangs finish third (2007), third (2008) and second (2009) in their past three trips to state.
The Mustangs will be hard pressed to assemble a class of golfers this talented again.
“Hopefully, we can win the title this year,” Jackson said. “That’s what it’s all about for this group of kids.”
Jackson certainly feels there’s no group more deserving of a state championship than his Mustangs.
After all, as he points out, his players aren’t only great players, but they’re great people as well.
Instead of trying to bludgeon inferior teams into submission, you’re more likely to see a Northside golfer sharing a tip or two with an opponent on the course.
“I think high school is so much more than trying to win a state championship,” A.J. Newell said. “I think it’s about making the team better and getting to know the girls on your team and the other teams better.”
These Mustangs enjoy golf and are quick to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach these girls,” Jackson said. “I’ve truly been blessed.”
Still, in the back of their minds, the Mustangs know a state title would be the perfect ending to a storied prep career for their three seniors.
“I think we feel like we want to go out with a bang,” Newell said. “That would be awesome. I think that if we all get out there and play, we should be right there at the end.”
Players to watch
Michelle Butler, Sr., Northside Christian: Division I-A prospect and backbone of Mustangs’ state title contender won districts by two strokes a year ago.
Lauren Coe, So., Palm Harbor University: East Lake transfer makes an already strong Hurricanes squad even better.
Shane Crutchfield, Jr., St. Petersburg: Won district and region titles en route to a state tournament appearance.
Hannah Espy, Jr., East Lake: Shot 81 at districts to help East Lake qualify for regionals.
Ali Franzese, So., Osceola: Coming off a freshman campaign where she was second at districts and eighth at regionals.
Danielle Grace, Sr., Northside Christian: Consistent performer who has been a mainstay in the Mustangs’ lineup for five seasons.
Justine Knox, Sr., Dunedin: Won districts by three strokes with 66 and qualified for states by shooting 71 at regionals.
A.J. Newell, Sr., Northside Christian: Tennessee oral commit would like to finish her Northside career by capturing team and individual state titles.
Anna Newell, Fr., Northside Christian: The future of the Mustangs program tied for ninth at states in 2009.
Jordan Patton, Jr., East Lake: Shot 74 at districts a year ago and followed with 76 at regionals.
Jasmine Wade, Jr., Palm Harbor University: Fired 72 at regionals, missing out on state by a stroke.
Erin Williamson, So., Countryside: Had the lowest round at districts for a rapidly improving Cougars team.
Northside Christian: Addition of eighth-grader Alison Armstrong gives an already loaded Mustangs squad five golfers capable of shooting par.
Palm Harbor University: With the quartet of Wade, Coe, Allyson Henning and Emily Gomez in the starting four, the Hurricanes enter the season as the team to beat among public schools.
East Lake: Eagles finished second at districts a year ago to qualify for regionals, where they placed fourth.
On the bubble: Countryside
Sept. 9: County meet at Clearwater Country Club (All six county public school teams attending)
Sept. 20: Crutchfield/Hawkins Invitational in Sebring
Oct. 14: Mustang Invitational at Seminole Lake Country Club
Oct. 18-19: District tournaments
Oct. 25-26: Region tournaments
Nov. 2-3: State tournaments