By Kyle LoJacono
The Gaither boys golf team may have started with six-over for the season, but the Cowboys have come on strong during the second half of the year as the district tournament approaches.
“Our goal right now is to get the team a few more wins,” said junior and No. 1 golfer Jimmy Stanger. “That way we can have some momentum going into districts and ride that to regionals and hopefully states. That’s the goal.”
Gaither (2-6) has had to replace two of its top-three players from last year’s squad that finished as the Class 2A-District 10 runner-up and placed third in regionals. The Cowboys lost Josh Black and Shawn Sirignano to graduation.
Gaither does return Stanger, Clyde Meadows and Patrick Highland, who were all in the squad’s top five last year and also have a growing confidence in their ability to play together.
“We have absolutely improved phenomenally, and we’ve grown as a team,” Meadows, a junior, said. “There is something to be said for being out here all the time working to get better for each other, and I think it has shown in how we are as a team.”
Highland, a sophomore, said he has seen a stronger will to win each match during the last few weeks.
“We are so much better,” Highland said. “We’ve been hanging in matches a lot better, and we’re more comfortable with each other.”
The three returning players have also had to take on more of a leadership role on the young Cowboys squad, which has only one senior that has played in a match this season.
“I’m trying to be more of a leader,” Meadows said. “I do feel very responsible for this team. It’s my job to keep them in line and focused, which is very hard to do. Patrick is another key leader, along with Jimmy.”
Gaither finished as the district runner-up last year behind tournament host King. Stanger posted a 77, tied for first through regulation but lost in a playoff. District and regional tournaments are played through nine holes.
The Cowboys finished two shots away from second place in the regional tournament, just missing a spot in the 2A state event. Stanger shot a 75 at regionals to come in fifth, but only the top-two players not on an advancing team qualify for the individual finals.
“I wanted to win districts, but honestly not making it to states drove me more,” Stanger said. “Our team missed qualifying for states by two strokes, and I missed making it as an individual by two. It’s kind of like if I would have made it, then our team would have made it. I’ve thought about that a lot.”
Stanger said he has worked on his swing during the offseason to hit more fairways and greens to take his game to the next level. Three-year Gaither coach Dwayne Olinger said he has seen steady improvement in all of his players during the season and feels a strong showing at districts is possible.
“If they all keep getting better in every match and every practice, then hopefully a couple guys can surprise you,” Olinger said. “Bottom line is we need to have at least two other kids shoot under 80 apart from Jimmy. If we do that, then we have a chance.”
Districts are on Monday, Oct. 17 at Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, 200 Inverness Ave., starting at 10 a.m.
–All results as recorded by the Florida High School Athletic Association.