By Kyle LoJacono
The 2010 Steinbrenner girls golf team became the first Warriors sports program to make it all the way to states, something the current squad plans on making a tradition.
“Our expectations are to improve going into districts,” said Steinbrenner coach Mark Mann. “The girls want to get back to state as a team. They’re hungry to do that and capable of getting back. I think this is the best overall team that I’ve coached in my seven years from top to bottom. All the kids are interchangeable with their scores.”
The Warriors won the Class 1A-District 14 championship last season in the program’s second year, and followed that up with a regional runner-up finish. Steinbrenner returns three of the five players that competed in states last year, but one of those losses leaves a large void.
Alex Milan won four individual district championships, two at Sickles and two at Steinbrenner, and also made it to states three of her four years in high school. Her efforts last year made her the All-Laker/All-Lutz News Girls Golfer of the Year and also earned her a golf scholarship with Florida State University.
“She helped put us on the map,” Mann said. “She’s someone that was able to make us recognized for golf. I think she’s set a legacy here that a lot of these girls want to help build on.”
While all on the team admit it will be difficult to replace Milan, they are using what she taught them to help continue the Warriors budding tradition in girls golf.
“It’s very exciting when you have these kids who were able to see and learn from Alex,” Mann said. “It showed them that with hard work you can go far. I think the girls have taken to it well this season and have been working hard all year.”
Steinbrenner senior Michelle Stein added, “As a freshman I had no idea what I was doing, and Alex kind of brought me along. She showed me how to have great integrity and helped me have a passion for the game. She also showed me how to be a calm influence on the other girls to help everything go easier. She showed us it’s OK to have a bad shot, because the next one is right in front of you.”
The Warriors are young, with two seniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. Mann said his seniors, Sara Bair and Stein, are more than capable of filling that leadership void.
“It’s so funny because I’m looking around for the older players,” Bair said with a laugh. “There’s supposed to be someone else here. It’s definitely different, but it’s fun to have that new role and bond with girls at a new level. I think Michelle and I can handle it and help the team get to where we want to.”
Mann has coached both Stein and Bair since their freshmen years at Sickles.
“They’ve been through this for three years, so they know what to expect from the season and the routines,” Mann said. “They were able to get some experience and leadership from Alex and that torch is passed to them. It’s really fun for me because they are such different players from when they started. Now our young girls look up to them.”
The Warriors have started the season fast, winning their first five matches including a 161-167 victory against perennial powerhouse Plant on Sept. 8. Freshman Claire Becker shot a career-low 37 to lead Steinbrenner, followed by Stein’s 40, Bair’s 41 and freshman Kelsey Holbert’s 43.
The young team will also have to deal with moving up in classification into 2A-10 with such schools as Freedom and Wharton. The last two years the Warriors were placed in a lower class by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) and played schools with smaller student populations, which is a common practice by the organization to help new programs.
Mann said his team likes the challenge of competing against different schools in the district.
“We’ll be playing more of the public schools in this area and that helps make some more rivalries for us,” Mann said. “The school won a bunch of district championships last year and the girls soccer team won states, and it’s those things that help bring in more interest from the students at the school.”
Along with that state soccer title, Warriors athlete Alexis Wright won the 2A state 100-meter hurdles championship, and the Steinbrenner boys cross country team finished as the 2A state runner-up last season. Stein said it is an honor to be a part of a young school creating a winning tradition.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of the history of a school,” Stein said. “To have our name on a district trophy and be there for that winning moment.”