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Citrus the pick for district title

The fickle nature of the sport keeps Citrus coach Chris Richardson honest. Yet it only barely dampens the spirit of optimism that surrounds this year's Hurricanes boys golf team.

Never before has Richardson been able to field such a talented and deep squad. And never before has a district championship _ and a trip to the state championships _ been so possible.

"I've got five guys that could medal," Richardson said of Monday's Class 4A, District 7 championship at World Woods. "I feel real good about it. But, just because we can win it doesn't mean we will. This is golf."

Many of Richardson's compatriots would beg to differ. Few have a golfer who can match Ethan Mitchell, who waltzed to the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title with a 2-over 74 at Lakeside Country Club, and none has the depth. Mitchell's closest competitor last Monday was teammate Chris Saltmarsh (76), and three more teammates _ D.J. Swander (80), Cory Gibbs (81) and Paul Xenophon (82) _ were in the top seven.

Central (7-7) has endured an up-and-down season under first-year coach Jim Widener. The Bears started the season 2-5, but have come on to win five of their last seven meets. It is a young team with no juniors or seniors.

The one bright spot for the Bears is sophomore Brad Strat. As a freshman, he shot a 76 at the district meet, but he has been slow to recover from a car accident shortly after the season that left him with a metal rod in his left leg, held in place by 10 metal pins.

Strat still has been playing decent golf, though. In practice for the conference meet, he shot a 76, but nerves gripped him as he shot a 91 in the event. As a team, the Bears shot a 347 in the practice round, which would have been good enough for third, but on game day they came in dead last with a 390.