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Youth will be served this year

A youth movement seems to be going on with most Citrus and Hernando high school golf teams.

With the exception of Lecanto, where not enough girls turned out to have a team, freshmen and sophomores are turning out in droves to try their hand at golf, a fact that bodes well for future years.

But not to be forgotten are the present hopes of Crystal River senior Tricia Laxton and Hernando High junior Blane Brown. Both are two-time District 5 medalists looking to make a third trip to their respective state tournaments in Sarasota.

Here is a look at the local teams:

Central Bears

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Bob McAlpine.

Top returnees: Dennis Fahey (Jr., 41.9 avg.), Kurt Rothert (Soph., 42 avg.), Mike Baron (Soph., 42 avg.), Jay Repass (Jr., 43 avg.).

Outlook: All five starters from last year return to this deep, balanced squad. Fahey, Rothert, Baron, and Repass were all within about a stroke of each other last year, and senior Job Levesque held down the fifth spot.

The top five can expect competition from senior Kevin McSweeney, juniors Joel Rice and Mike Lach and sophomores Jeremy Hay and Adam King.

"There's a pretty good bit of competition," McAlpine said. "Lach is making a pretty good run at (a starting spot) and McSweeney is as well."

If their top players hold up, Central has a legitimate shot at winning its 23-team district and qualifying for state. The Bears are off to a good start, having fought off pre-match jitters to defeat Springstead on Thursday night, 175-182.

Girls

Coach: Joy Greene.

Key returnees: Tara Ulasewicz (Jr.), Ann Wagner (Jr.) Cristina Emich (Jr.), Kim Gore (Soph.), Michele Eisenring (Soph.).

Outlook: The Central girls figure to have a long road ahead of them, with little experience returning. Ulasewicz, Wagner, Emich, Gore and Eisenring will have to be the iron five for the Bears, who have little behind them.

With no home course and no wins last year, the Bears will have to play catch-up to compete with the rest of the Gulf Coast Conference. But that is understandable, considering that this is only the second year of competition for the Bears, and none of the players had played competitively before last year.

Citrus Hurricanes

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Chris Richardson.

Top returnees: Matt Garrett, Tim Gysan, Kevin Stokes, Marc Fugnitto.

Outlook: For this season, Richardson is looking for strength based on his three returning senior starters.

"Matt (Garrett), Kevin (Stokes), and Tim (Gysan) are going to be the team leaders, and they should provide low scores for the team this year," Richardson said.

Richardson is hopeful about the team's chances now that it is back in the Gulf Coast Conference.

"There has always been good competition in the GCC, and if we place in the top half of the conference tournament I will consider it a good season," Richardson said.

Girls

Coach: Vicki Overman.

Top returnees: Mary Mitchell and Rachel Schoenberger.

Outlook: After last year's success, Citrus has a rebuilding year ahead of it, Overman said.

"We lost all of our starters from last year's team except Mary (Mitchell), but we have some new players and freshmen who will fill in the top five," Overman said.

"This year our goal is to gain match experience and work hard," she said. "We will take our lumps and it will make the team better for future years. Our conference is filled with tough teams that should really test us this season. It should be a good learning experience."

Crystal River Pirates

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Jim Nielson.

Top returnees: Jason Hill (Sr., 47 avg.), Randy McCausland (Soph., 47 avg.).

Outlook: The Pirates have just four returners from last year, but will look to the future with a strong turnout of underclassmen.

"We have 13 kids out and of the 13 we've only got four seniors and one junior," Nielson said. "Everybody else is in the ninth and 10th grades. I'm trying to get the younger kids out."

The four returners are Hill, McCausland, senior Chet Michaels (53 avg.) and sophomore Kenny Littrell (53 avg.).

"We're building for the future," Neilson said. "Our goal is to improve and become consistent. And have fun."

Girls

Coach: Scott Meseroll.

Top returnees: Tricia Laxton (Sr., two-time district medalist, 37.1 avg.), Kristin Gilbert (Jr., 44.5 avg.), Christine Aarestad (Jr., 41 avg.).

Outlook: Laxton _ who won the individual district title as a freshman, was injured and did not compete as a sophomore, and returned to take the title as a junior _ is one of the state's strongest high school players.

Gilbert and Aarestad complete a strong top three for the Pirates, who will look to juniors Vanessa Jones (56 avg.) and Angela Elam (60 avg.) at the fourth and fifth slots to complete team scoring.

"Tricia is working on a new swing this year," Meseroll said. "Kristin Gilbert is steadily improving and Christine Aarestad is working hard on her game also. The keys are Vanessa and Angela. If they can pull through and shoot low numbers, we'll be very, very successful."

Hernando Leopards

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Randy Lagedrost.

Top returnees: Blane Brown (Jr., 37.5 avg.), Terry Hedden (Sr.).

Outlook: Brown, the No. 1 player and returning state tournament participant, leads the Leopards.

Brown has twice been a Times first team all-North Suncoast selection, and is the defending District 5 individual champion.

The junior has participated in the state tournament in Sarasota twice and finished 10th there as a freshman.

But despite Brown's individual heroics, Hernando finished sixth at last year's District 5 tournament, 28 shots behind champion Ocala Forest.

But help may well be on its way _ Brown's brother, Boyd, is a freshman this year.

Girls

Coach: Thurman Chambers.

Top returnees: Debbie Chambers (Jr., 68 avg.), Cathy Hedden (Jr., 65 avg.)

Outlook: With only two players coming back and several other trying out for the team for the first time, Chambers' season figures to be long on teaching and short on victories.

The top three players from last year's team _ Becky Emo, Laura Carter and Tracy Porter _ have graduated.

The two returning juniors, Chambers (the coach's daughter) and Hedden, didn't take up golf until last season.

Nonetheless, the returners are making progress. Hedden shot a 51 in last week's season-opening match against Springstead, 14 strokes below her 1991 average.

The team also features two seniors (Leslie Merrion and Janessa Rivera) who didn't play last year, and three freshmen (Katie McIntyre, Sarah Mullins and Jessica Lloyd) who have never played before.

"We're kind of rebuilding," coach Chambers said. "If we manage to keep them all, next year we could have a pretty good team."

Lecanto Panthers

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Richard Eschen.

Top returnees: Jim MacDonald (Sr., 41.1 avg.), Bryan Davidson (Sr., 47.3 avg.), Jason Hinds (Sr., 48.2 avg.)

Outlook: First-year coach Eschen has 16 golfers, mainly seniors and freshmen, competing for five starting spots.

"You hope to have three or four golfers in each class," Eschen said, "but we're heavy at the top and bottom."

Louis Newman, the only junior, shows potential, Eschen said, as do freshmen Tim Brightman and Mike Reynolds. But MacDonald is the key performer.

"Mac looks real good," Eschen said. "We're hoping he's going to be a leader for us. That's something as a coach you hope to have, for him as a senior to help the younger boys."

Girls

Lecanto High will not field a girls team this season, according to activities director Kelly Tyler.

Springstead Eagles

Classification: District 5

Boys

Coach: Rick Dofka.

Top returnees: Chris Barras (Soph.), Brian Frampton (Soph.), Gary Senior (Sr.), Chris Tuskes (Sr.), Matt Shwartz (Sr.).

Outlook: Dofka, who coached the girls' golf team at Springstead last year, said Senior is the clear-cut No. 1 for his team and should shoot around a 40 average. After that, several players _ most of whom shoot in the mid- to high 40's _ will compete for the remaining spots.

"We talk in practice about getting a feeling for a shot," Dofka said. "We're still working on it. We've got some smart kids."

The Eagles started the season with a win over Hernando, then evened their record Thursday with a loss to Central.

Girls

Coach: Sandy Mattox.

Top returnees: Kathleen Long (Jr., 45 avg.), Jean Finnman (Sr., 47 avg.).

Outlook: First-year coach Mattox has a tough 1-2 combination returning in Long and Finnman. But the player that could well wind up with top playing honors is freshman Sarah Cote, daughter of former Springstead boys' coach Richard Cote.

The rest of the positions will be filled from among senior Stefanie Rabb, a starter last year, juniors Colette Rockwell and Diane Joerger and sophomore Donna Joerger. Rockwell and the Joerger sisters are newcomers to the team.

"We should be pretty competitive with everyone," Mattox said. "It depends on what kind of day we have. We're relatively young."

The first order of business is to fill out the rest of the schedule for the Eagles, who play their home matches at Oak Hills Country Club. After Thursday's 201-269 win over Hernando, the Eagles aren't scheduled to play another match until March 10.

"I'm trying to get some tri-matches scheduled," Mattox said. "I want to get more matches for the girls."

_ Staff writer Joanne Korth and correspondents Terry Organ, Stephen Kaplan and Jim Tomlin contributed to this report.

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