Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Prep golf, hockey rivalry defines two Wharton, Freedom players

BRANDON — Golf is a gentleman's game.

Hockey is a man's game.

Those two simple definitions don't fully capture the nuances of each sport, but they do help illustrate the rivalry between Wharton junior Justin Koepke and Freedom junior Jimmy Jones.

"I'd say it's kind of a friendly rivalry in golf," Jones said. "When we're on the ice, it's like we never met before."

The juxtaposition is understandable and even a little comical.

On weekday afternoons on the golf course, it's collared shirts, khaki shorts and white shoes.

On Friday nights at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, it's pads and face masks, hard-edged sticks and flying pucks.

The result? Two talented players who live to beat each other.

"We don't exactly see eye to eye," Koepke said.

The rivalry renews this week when Wharton and Freedom take part in the Class 2A, District 10 boys golf tournament Tuesday at Summerfield Country Club. Jones, Florida born and bred and the son of former LPGA Tour veteran Dawn Coe-Jones, is the No. 1 player for Freedom.

Koepke, a Minnesota native, is the No. 2 or 3 player for Wharton golf and has played hockey since he was 4.

Whether it's the natural rivalry between the New Tampa schools or the competitive spirit of each athlete, Jones and Koepke eye each other with an edge. The not-so-friendly rivalry doesn't quite dissipate when the game is over.

Both hockey teams practice at the forum, but usually go through drills on separate rinks.

"I really don't like it over there," Jones said when asked if he would take a photo with Koepke at the Wharton practice.

The feeling is mutual.

"It's hard to say we like each other," Keopke said. "We could be in the same room together, just not that close."

Freedom hockey coach Mike Lufkin, older and wiser, sees beyond any bad blood.

"I think when they are older they'll look back on this and wonder what they were thinking," Lufkin said. "Maybe if they were just hockey players they would get along after the games."

Clearly, this is a rivalry fought on many levels.

Freedom and Wharton met on the ice last month with the Patriots coming away with a 4-2 victory over the Wildcats. Jones, a center, scored early in the match for Freedom.

"They (Freedom and Wharton) are both good teams but that rivalry game is one of the biggest ones they have," Lufkin said.

Jones led the Patriots in scoring in 2011 and currently leads them in scoring. Jones was a part of a 2008 12-under national championship team as well as a 2010 14-under national runnerup team.

He's the center that teams need to stop if they want to have a chance. Even by Koepke's own admission.

"He's (Jones) able to get in the right spot at the right time," Koepke said.

Koepke, a defense man, is keeping his options open as far as playing hockey at the next level, while Jones said his focus will turn solely to golf after high school.

Lufkin describes both as ultra-talented and competitive.

The competitiveness wanes on the golf course, but only slightly. Though they try to smash each other into the boards in hockey, it's a faux pas to even talk during a person's back swing.

"I try to control my anger a little more when we're golfing," Jones said. "We'll just do little things like say something before you hit the ball.

"On the ice, it's different."

It remains to be seen who comes out in golf Tuesday, but the rivalry between Jones and Koepke will continue. The Wharton and Freedom hockey teams play again on Dec. 2.

Andy Warrener can be reached at [email protected]

   
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