With four of their top five players returning, the St. Cloud Bulldogs will be heavily favored to make it a third consecutive Orange Belt Conference boys golf championship when the season begins in September.
“We return a lot of talent and those players have spent the entire year getting better,” Coach Jim Endicott said. “In addition, we have two new young players coming in and frankly they are coming into the season to battle for varsity spots on the roster.”
St. Cloud will return a senior-laden team that includes Eric Hernandez, who was the surprise medalist at last year’s OBC Championship while playing out of the number five spot. He is expected to lead a team that includes returning all-conference golfers Chad Knollinger, Austin Price and Gunner Greene.
In addition, St. Cloud returns other experienced varsity golfers in senior Tanner Allore and senior Cayden Collins. The newcomers expected to compete include freshman Espn Pool and sophomore Alex Owen, who transfers to St. Cloud from the private First Academy in Orlando.
“It has been an absolute joy watching this team grow up over the years,” Endicott said. “When our seniors were freshmen, I don’t think any of them broke a 100 in the conference tournament. They have kept getting better and better every year and I am so proud of how hard they have worked to get to this point.”
Repeating as OBC champions is not the only goal that Endicott has in mind for this team. Last year, the Bulldogs placed third in an extremely difficult district to advance to regional play where they fell just 10 shots away from earning a coveted spot in the state championships. Making that next leap and taking a team to the state tournament is something Endicott more than believes is in reach for his team in 2021.
“We definitely have the depth to do it,” he says. “When you think about it, if each guy would have shot two or three shots better at regionals, something they were all capable of doing, we would have qualified last year. Our kids have been here every day this summer and have worked so hard. We have solid depth and we have managed to arrange a tougher regular season schedule that should prepare us for the postseason.”
That schedule includes a home-and-home match with perennial state power Vero Beach (Oct. 14 at Royal St. Cloud and Oct. 19 on the road). The OBC Championship is set for Oct. 11 with the district and regional tournaments slated for Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.
Looking at other county teams, Celebration Head Coach Mike Pagano returns a solid group, including Ethan Badillo, who earned All-OBC honors as a freshman. Other players to watch include Jack Crawford, Lance Link, and Ethan McConnell, and newcomers George Aguilera and Jeremiah Bianchi.
“We hope to be competitive in both county and district play this year,” Pagano noted. “We have a strong group of returning golfers as well as some very talented newcomers. Our goal is to build on the successes we had individually, and as a team, from last year. This is a team that will bear watching in the future as seven of the Storm’s top 10 players are underclassmen.”
Tohopekaliga will rely on a pair of seniors from last year. Jonathon Bonilla and Erik Roehrick averaged 42 and 44 in ninehole matches last year. Sophomore newcomer Elias Hernandez has shown some promise in the pre-season.
“We have some strong players returning and are hopeful that we get a few more kids out to field a full team,” Tigers Assistant Boys’ Coach Jennifer Farrell noted.
Even though Harmony head coach Kyle Carr lost three of his top four scorers from last year’s third place OBC team, he remains optimistic heading into 2021 thanks to two incoming freshmen in Cesar Gandia and Blake Rousch. He also returns junior Rutger Doe.
“Although they are young, Cesar and Blake are as talented as any of the seniors that graduated a year ago,” Carr said. “Rutger has the ability to post scores in the low 40s, so I think we have a solid base. We are young, but if a few guys can step up, I see no reason why we can’t compete for second place in OBC’s this season.”
Osceola finished fourth in last year’s OBC race and continues to finalize its roster for the 2021 campaign.
While it is questionable whether either school will be able to field a full team, both Liberty and Poinciana hope to be represented by individual players.