The expectations are high once again for the Freedom High School boys golf team, as it enters the 2016 campaign seeking its fourth consecutive Class 3A-District 10 title.
If it pulls off the noteworthy feat, it would Freedom’s first sports team to win four consecutive district championships.
Armed with the district’s past two individual medalists in senior Tyler Bray and junior Cy Storlien, plus a superbly talented freshman in Cooper Smith, the Patriots appear to have a solid nucleus with their season kickoff against Wharton scheduled on Aug. 23.
Bray, expected to consistently be one of Patriots top one or two scorers, said this year’s squad has a similar profile to the one that reached the state tournament in 2013 — when he was a freshman.
“The last two years, we’ve kind of just been like one guy short, but I feel like we’re a lot stronger this year, for sure,” the senior said. “We have a new freshman on the team, Cooper Smith — he’s going to really help us out.”
He added: “We’re definitely focused on districts and regionals, and hopefully we’ll make it to states again.”
Michael Passarelli, Freedom’s golf coach, said this year’s group “absolutely” has the potential to not only win districts, but also make a solid showing at regionals, and possibly advance to states in late October.
“We’ve got a couple of really, really good golfers,” Passarelli said. “The goal is definitely there.”
The work ethic and commitment to reach those goals is, too.
“They’ve got a club in their hands at all times,” Passarelli said. “These guys practice every aspect — they hit a ton of balls, they chip and putt a thousand balls, they play all the time.
“They work unbelievably hard.”
Perhaps one concern heading into the season is the team’s depth, or lack thereof. As opposed to a roster that goes nine or 10 deep, the Patriots will need quality play from the likes of seniors Nick Mitchell and Sam Smith, if they plan on making a deep postseason run.
“The two guys behind our top three are the ones that need to step up and be consistent, solid contributors,” Passarelli said. “If those two guys can play the way they are capable of, then we have a real shot.
“Those ‘No. 4’ and ‘No. 5’ guys know that at least one of them has got to score for us.”
With just six players on the varsity roster, Passarelli said the main key is ensuring everyone’s “mental approach is sound” throughout the course of the season.
“They all just need to make sure they play within themselves, and their expectations are real,” Passarelli said. “It’s just a matter of understanding of how to deal with things if a certain aspect of the game is not there on a given day.
“When you’re as talented as some of these kids are — the game is there, every single shot in the bag is there — it’s just about being able to manage a round of golf from a mental standpoint to make sure that mistakes remain one mistake, and not two or three.”
Freedom golf coach Michael Passarelli
On freshman Cooper Smith: “He gets the ball out there for a little guy, but what makes him so dang good is his short game is ridiculous — you get that kid around the green and he has a chance to make anything happen.”
On senior Tyler Bray: “Tyler is the only one that’s been here for four years (as a letterman.) He’s pretty much the leader of this team.”
On senior Nick Mitchell: “This kid has worked so hard. He’s come such an unbelievably long way — it’s really crazy to think about where he was two years ago and where he is right now because he’s a heck of a golfer. …He’s going to be one of the guys that we’re going to count on, and he knows it.”
Class 3A-District 10
Tampa Bay Tech
Wiregrass Ranch High
Freedom boys golf roster:
Tyler Bray, senior (4-year Letterman, 2014 District 3A-10 champion, 2015 District runner-up)
Matt Daniello, junior (2-year letterman)
Nick Mitchell, senior (3-year letterman)
Cooper Smith, freshman (projected starter)
Sam Smith, senior (2-year letterman)
Cy Storlien, junior (3-year letterman, 2015 District 3A-10 champion)
Published August 24, 2016