It may be a tournament without an identity, but in the midst of an on-and-off season, the event formerly known as the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Championships is a welcome sight. Getting in 18 holes these days is quite a feat.
"It's a weird year, with all the hurricanes and the missed (matches). I don't think anybody in the county is playing where they should be," Lecanto girls coach Doug Warren said. "We're just looking at it as an opportunity to play in an 18-hole tournament format before districts."
Today at 8:30 a.m. at Plantation Inn, the seven Citrus and Hernando county public schools will tee off in what was one of the more evenly-matched conference events. Lecanto's girls and Central's boys won last year. With Citrus schools having pulled out of the league, today's matches will not have medals and trophies at stake. But it's the first 18-hole match for most teams after weeks of weather-permitting 9-holers.
"It's time for us to play something that seems a little bigger," Central boys coach Gary Morton said. "This is one of the highlights (of the season)."
The scores at Plantation may not necessarily sparkle, however. Morton said his squad struggled on the greens Tuesday in a match, attributing it directly to lack of practice. The team had played a match last Thursday but had no work between that and Tuesday due to Hurricane Jeanne. "You just can't get anything rolling," Morton said.
Central has the luxury of talent throughout its lineup, including Grey Gonzalez (36 average for nine holes) and Austin Grey (39), who both earned All-GCAC honors with high finishes in the tourney last year. Of the five Bears who will play, Ryan Brewer carries the highest average (41), though he shot 38 on Tuesday.
Lecanto's girls have a steady core of players, including Carly Lewis (48 average) and Kari Amundson (49). There is no clear No. 1 with All-GCAC player Anne Kizer having graduated, but the squad's consistency could be enough for a third consecutive, er, team title. "It's certainly kind of strange," Morton said. "You don't know what to call it."
WHEN: Today, 8:30 a.m. Shotgun start for boys and girls.
WHERE: Plantation Inn Golf Resort, Crystal River.
TEAMS: Central, Citrus, Crystal River, Hernando, Lecanto, Nature Coast and Springstead.
THE SKINNY: It's not the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament now that Citrus schools have pulled out of the league. But, nonetheless, all the schools are fulfilling this spot on the schedule to take advantage of a rare 18-hole competition before the postseason. A year ago, the Lecanto girls were the best team and Hernando's Tara Allen shot 76 at Lakeside Country Club to take medalist honors. Both are strong candidates to repeat. At El Diablo, Central's boys won and Hernando's Keegan Ledford captured the individual title in a playoff over Citrus' Robert Taylor and Central's Austin Grey. Ledford and Taylor have graduated. Central still has a strong team, including Grey.
_ JOHN SCHWARB, Times staff writer