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THEIR BIGGEST SWINGS

A talented group prepares to tee off at state, with Sickles' Milan and Wharton's Yang out front.

Sickles sophomore Alex Milan enters state playing the best golf of her life. Two weeks ago she won districts with 69, a career low at the time. A week ago, she fired a spectacular 8-under-par 64 at Heritage Isles to win the Class 2A, Region 4 title.

What has been the key to her remarkable play?

An improved short game.

Milan has always blistered the ball off the tee but in recent weeks her chipping, pitching and putting have been exceptional.

She now heads to state for the first time.

"I want two really solid rounds together," Milan said.

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Wharton senior Shena Yang, who is being courted by schools such as Florida and USF, is such a talented player that even after shooting 67 at regionals she wasn't overly thrilled. That's because she missed two makeable eagle putts and couldn't sink an 8-footer for birdie on the 18th.

"I thought it could have been better," Yang said.

Yang, the Times' Player of the Year the past two seasons, is without question one of the main players to watch at state. She tied for sixth last year after posting rounds of 74-75. As a sophomore, she was 1-under and placed fifth.

"This is a difficult course but I think she has the ability to break through," Wharton coach Maxine Stark said. "I expect her to be within the top five again."

But could she win?

"Yes," Stark said. "But it will definitely take her absolute best."

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No area team - boys or girls - has been as consistently good this fall as the Durant girls squad. The Cougars crushed the field with a 302 total to win districts by 21 shots, then followed that up with another solid effort at regionals (311) despite the fact standout freshman Madison Opfer shot 83, 13 shots higher than her sparkling 70 the previous week.

"Everybody else picked it up for her," Durant coach Dick Sheffield said.

Durant has solid players throughout the lineup.

Opfer is a rising star on the state level. Senior Amy West, a returning all-county player who recently committed to Seminole Community College, typically is around par. Erika Wardzinski always seems to be in the mid-70s or better. And Kerrie Reinhardt is one of the best No. 4 players in the state.

"I think we've got a very good chance at the top three," Sheffield said.

The Cougars could even contend for the title.

Lake Mary won the 2007 championship with a two-day total of 616. Durant appears to have the ability to shoot somewhere in that neighborhood.

Fast Facts

State golf

All classes play today and Wednesday

Class 2A girls

Where: Ridgewood Lakes Golf & Country Club, Davenport

Local teams: Durant (Olivia Higgins, Madison Opfer, Kerrie Reinhardt, Erika Wardzinski, Amy West), Wharton (Brittany Bradshaw, Kate Demick, Nina Hwang, Christina Vail, Shena Yang)

Local individual: Alex Milan, Sickles

Class 2A boys

Where: Providence Golf & Country Club, Davenport

Local individual: Ian McConnell, Riverview

Class A girls

Where: The Club at Eaglebrooke, Lakeland

Local team: Berkeley Prep (Kim Carpenter, Kyleen Carpenter, Jessica Hahn, Desiree Meyncke, Lindsey Weiss)

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