1. Archive

Wesley Chapel still waiting to be tested

With four of the best golfers in the county, Wesley Chapel coach Alan Black knew his team had the potential to be monsters of the fairway.

Sure enough, that's what the Wildcats have been.

In its first three matches, Wesley Chapel beat Pasco, River Ridge and defending Sunshine Athletic Conference champion Ridgewood by 15 strokes or more.

Because of the competition, or lack thereof, the Wildcats were hoping Tuesday's match against Mitchell would be the type of test they needed.

It wasn't.

Wesley Chapel cruised to a 153-165 victory as Cameron Knight, Kris Struble and Andrew Horn all shot in the 30s.

"We thought that would one of our tougher matches," Black said of Mitchell.

Mustangs coach Scott Williams knew otherwise.

"Where's a hurricane when you need one," Williams said.

Williams has no seniors among his top eight players. The inexperience showed as Mitchell lost its first two matches by two strokes.

Things did not get much better against the Wildcats. Mitchell was missing its No. 1 golfer, Josh Datoli, the only one from last year's team who qualified for regionals. Datoli was on a two-week vacation with his parents in China and is expected to be back next week.

"I'm not too worried, yet," Williams said. "It's not where you start. It's where you finish."

Wesley Chapel, meanwhile, expects to finish on top in the conference, district and beyond thanks to its depth.

Knight, a junior who dominated in state and national competitions over the summer, is the No. 1 golfer. He is followed by Struble, a transfer from Iowa, and Andrew and Logan Horn. All four are capable of shooting in the 30s.

"In the meet before Mitchell, Logan had a lower score than Cameron and Kris," Black said. "That's pretty nice when your No. 3 guy can beat your top two."

YOUNG AND RESTLESS: Led by foreign players other teams could only dream about, Saddlebrook Prep has won consecutive Class A state titles to assert itself as the dominant program in the county.

This season, the Spartans have the chance to add to their legacy by becoming the first boys program since the sport was sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association in 1975 to win three consecutive state titles.

But instead of making history, Saddlebrook might be history.

The Spartans started the season with a 10-stroke loss to Berkeley Prep and a five-stroke loss to Tampa Prep. In the unusual position of looking up in the standings, Saddlebrook finally got back on track with Tuesday's victory over Zephyrhills.

"We're just trying to find a team right now," coach Mark Hirs-chey said.

The Spartans' free-fall from grace was not entirely unexpected. Conner Doherty and Sung Won Jeon, key contributors on last season's state championship team, graduated. To make matters worse, G.W. Kim, the 2003 Times' county golfer of the year, transferred to a school in Washington state.

Still, Hirschey figured he would have two other golfers, Kyung Chong and Young Min-Cha, to help Saddlebrook defend its title. But Chong, who spent most of the summer in Korea, has had visa problems, and Hirschey does not know if would be eligible if he decided to return.

That leaves Min-Cha as the only returnee.

"We've had nationally ranked golfers on the team the past couple of years, and that has helped considerably," Hirschey said. "This year is different. We have to develop kids."

Min-Cha played several American Junior Golf Association tournaments during the summer and has assumed the role as the No. 1 golfer. But Hirschey is using him sparingly early in the season to let the younger players get more experience.

"We'll be okay," Hirschey said.

_ BOB PUTNAM, Times staff writer