By Andy Warrener
The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
The Gaither boys golf team is not known for its fast starts.
The Cowboys began the 2011 season 2-6, but rebounded enough to finish third at the Class 2A-District 9 meet and advance to regionals.
This season, Gaither (3-6) stumbled out of the gate again this year, but fourth-year coach Dwayne Olinger said scores have been steadily decreasing all year.
The Cowboys return a group of experienced golfers, including their No. 1 Jimmy Stanger, and are expecting to be playing at top form come districts.
“We’re going to be in the hunt,” Olinger said. “We know we can count on Jimmy to do his job. Our top three should have good rounds, and we should get something from our four and five guys.”
Last year, the Cowboys had to replace two of their top-three golfers but bring back their entire top five in 2012.
Stanger, a senior, returns after winning an individual district championship and advancing to states for the first time last season. The University of Virginia commit was also named The Laker/Lutz News Boys Golfer of the Year in 2011.
“(Stanger) is so goal oriented,” Olinger said. “That’s what’s driven him to where he’s at.”
Olinger said Stanger averaged between 37.1 and 37.6 in his first two years, but cut that to a slender 34 as a junior.
Stanger is continuing to improve, carding a personal best of 33 in matches twice this year.
“He just knows what he has to do to force an even par over nine holes,” Olinger said.
Stanger is not counting himself as a lock for anything, but said the experience at states has given him a boost.
“Last year at states, I was kind of in a daze, just happy I got there,” Stanger said. “This year, I will be a lot more confident going in.”
Along with Stanger, Gaither brings back junior Patrick Highland, who Olinger called one of the area’s emerging golfers. He is joined by senior Clyde Meadows and juniors Nick Shea and Alex Garren who can help push the Cowboys to the front of the district.
“We’re a lot more experienced this year,” Stanger said. “We know how to show up big at the big events.”
Gaither has made the playoffs every season since Olinger took over the squad in 2009, but are looking for their first team district title since 2000.
Olinger sees districts as being a four-horse race between Plant, King and Chamberlain and his Cowboys. Stanger would like to see his team nab that elusive district crown as well as have a stronger showing at regionals and, possibly, states.
The 2A-9 meet is scheduled for Oct. 15 at Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club.