PLANT CITY — It would be asking a lot of the Plant City girls golf team to repeat as district champs, even with the home-course advantage.
Good thing for the Raiders and the other 10 teams not named Steinbrenner they can shoot for a secondary goal.
Steinbrenner is the overwhelming choice to lay claim to the Class 2A, District 10 crown Monday. In fact the Warriors' victory might contain the least amount of drama. Who finishes second and third — thus extending their seasons — will draw greater interest.
The top three squads all advance to the Region 2A-4 tourney a week later, with a spot in the month-ending State 2A event still in play. The prevailing opinions of coaches lean toward Plant City and Durant having a good shot at landing in the coveted top three.
"Steinbrenner is a shoe-in," Durant head coach Dick Sheffield said. "After that I think you have three teams playing for two spots."
Sheffield says his Cougars, along with Plant City and Freedom, are the top contenders to advance.
"I would definitely agree with that. You're going to see who is strong both physically and mentally," says Meg Jordan, whose Raider squad will serve as hosts come Monday morning.
Groups start at 8 a.m. at the Walden Lake Golf and Country Club.
District tournaments require everyone play 18 holes as compared to the nine-hole format of the regular season.
Plant City leader Kellyanne Hurst won't have an issue having played in several top junior events, and her ninth-grade teammates Kendall Johnson and Kaylee McIntosh also have experience at going the full distance around a course.
And for a little preview, Plant City finished its regular season Tuesday by playing Freedom — and edging the Patriots by six strokes. Lindsey Box, the normal No. 4 player, made the difference as she shot a 47 which was second best for her squad Tuesday. The Raiders ended with an 8-3 record.
Only a stroke or two may end up separating the Raiders and Cougars. While Plant City did win both of its meetings with Durant this season, the Cougars have steadily improved their team average.
Durant's Krista Reinhardt and Tori Higgins are averaging 44 over nine holes and Samantha Rentz is a couple shots off that pace. The wild card to the whole thing could be Shannon Bell, a softball player by trait who has been learning on the go.
"Her work ethic is something else," Sheffield said of Bell. "She wants to be a good golfer, she's a great athlete."
Bell has improved her average to 54 and often a team's fourth golfer, especially when the action turns to 18-hole events, ends up being just as important as the best score.
The top groups begin early Monday so Jordan urged any would-be spectators to show up at Walden Lake with that in mind. For example, the 8 a.m. threesome will feature Hurst, a junior, along with the top players from Steinbrenner and Freedom.
"Those first 4 to 5 groups will be like match play. It's gonna be some great golf," said Jordan. "I would encourage people to come out and watch, especially (Walden Lake) members. It's nice for the girls and it's a big event for us to be hosting."
The 2A-10 boys were originally slated to also play at Walden Lake but it has been moved to Summerfield, which is Riverview High's home course. Though neither Plant City nor Durant is expected to have a top-three team finish, both have promising individuals.
Players who card the top three scores from nonadvancing teams also advance to the regionals. Durant's Chase Levesque may fit that bill, along with Plant City's top scorer, William George, who has averaged about 1-over-par per round the last six weeks.
Durant's second and fourth players are both freshmen (Nick Little, Colton Rustenberhe) and the Raiders also have a promising future with George, No. 2 Jordan Genevie and freshman Jered Driskell all to return.
Newsome's boys are the class of the group. Strawberry Crest is in the field as well. The boys tourney starts at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]