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Northside Christian girls golf coach D.J. Jackson can anticipate the questions.
Yes, that’s his varsity team warming up on the driving range.
No, the players are not technically in high school.
Yes, they’ve got game.
Jackson coaches what has to be one of the youngest teams to qualify for the girls state tournament. In fact, none of his players are actually in high school.
Only two golfers, Ryanne Jackson and Sara Noto, are in eighth grade. Ashley Zagers and Alyssa Cerino are seventh-graders. Shoshanna Van Loan is in sixth grade. Sixth!
But there they are. Playing in the same groups with high schoolers who have driver’s licenses, boyfriends and college plans.
“This is by far the youngest team we’ve had, ever,’’ D.J. Jackson said. “Even when we started the program in 2001 we were older than this. That’s just the way it worked out.’’
Northside Christian is no stranger to the girls tournament. It won a state championship in 2004 and finished as Class A runnerup the past two seasons.
But this team was a small part of the previous year’s success. Jackson and Zagers are the only returning players. Cerino, Noto and Van Loan are newcomers.
According to Jackson, they all shoot between 42-43 for nine holes. At the region tournament at Bardmoor last week, Zagers paced the team with 82. Cerino was close behind with 83, Noto shot 86 and Jackson had 95. The Mustangs shot a team score of 346, only four behind region champion Academy of the Holy Names.
Usually, the goal for a Northside team that makes the state tournament is a state championship. This season, however, the goal is a reasonable finish.
“We’ve set our goals for this tournament,’’ Jackson said. “If we were to finish in sixth place, for us that would be like winning the tournament. Anything between sixth and 10th place would be a good showing for us.
“The whole goal is to win a state tournament in the next three or four years.’’
Just because his players are in middle school, Jackson doesn’t expect them to be intimidated by Harbor Hills Country Club in Lady Lake or by the older players. He expects them to do well. No excuses.
“That’s why we’re keeping score,’’ Jackson said. “We’re here to compete. If you aren’t ready to compete then I’m not going to be happy.
You’re representing yourself, but also the school and the parents. I expect them to do the best they can.’’
Tuesday-Wednesday. Admission is free.
Class 2A boys
Course: Mission Inn and Resort Club, El Campeon Course, Howey-in-the-Hills
Local qualifiers: St. Petersburg (Jack Maguire, Blake Dyer, Jake Kevorkian, John Musselman, Daniel Weis)
Class 2A girls
Course: Mission Inn and Resort Club, Las Colinas Course, Howey-in-the-Hills
Local qualifiers: Palm Harbor University (Jasmine Wade, Lauren Coe, Joanne Baker, Jessica Roper, Ryan Pierce), Madison Glennie (Countryside)
Class A girls
Course: Harbor Hills Country Club, Lady Lake
Local qualifiers: Northside Christian (Ashley Zagers, Alyssa Cerino, Sara Noto, Ryanne Jackson, Shoshanna Van Loan), Marisol Doglioli (Clearwater Central Catholic)
Class A boys
Course: Deer Island Golf and Lake Club, Tavares
Local qualifiers: Northside Christian (Chris Keller, Anthony Quintessenza, Troy Hicks, Jasen Norris, Ricky Fuller), Ryan Orr (Clearwater Central Catholic), Matt Rothrock (St. Petersburg Catholic)