For the second time in school history, the Freedom High varsity boys golf team has reached the state tournament.
Collectively strong postseason performances were enough to earn an FHSAA 3A tournament berth, the program’s first since 2013.
The Patriots captured their fourth consecutive district title on Oct. 10, and followed up with a second-place regional finish on Oct. 17 at Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor.
“It’s a pretty big achievement,” said Nick Mitchell, one of the team’s three seniors. “We’re really glad we achieved the goal that we set last year, knowing that we had a really high-caliber team for this year.
“We’ve definitely gotten more comfortable during the season,” he added.
Fellow senior Tyler Bray—the lone holdover from the 2013 state team — believes that this 2016 squad will have an improved showing over the team three years ago, when the the Patriots finished last (out of 16 teams) at the two-day, 36-hole tournament.
“This year, we’ve had some really good players, and I feel like this team is better than that team,” Bray said.
Michael Passarelli, Freedom’s golf coach, said the group’s success lies in its consistency since August.
“They’ve been playing well all year,” Passarelli said. “What we’ve finally done at the end of the year is we kind of put it (all) together.
“They’ve improved, and they’ve stayed within themselves.”
The 3A state tournament, which runs through Oct. 26, is played at the El Campeon Course at the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Orlando.
The highly regarded course, which features elevation changes of more than 85 feet, often proves challenging for even elite golfers.
The course, Passarelli said, differs from others the team has played this season.
“The thing that separates it from what we play is the elevation difference,” he said. “You’re shooting uphill, you’re shooting downhill, and the greens are tough and fast. There are really no courses around (Tampa Bay) that we have played that come anything close to what you see there.”
He added: “You can’t have a specific strategy when some guys are hitting 50, 60 or 70 yards longer than others. It’s going to be very different for some of these kids.”
Mitchell, who played the course over the summer, noted El Campeon has a “pretty tough layout.”
“It’s pretty high-rated, a very positional course,” Mitchell said. “Distance and short game are definitely key.”
Trying to “not shoot to a number” is also crucial, Passarelli said.
“That’s the biggest thing that we worked on,” he said. “It’s just hit your next shot and that’s it.
“We looked at the scores from all the regional contenders, and they know they can play with any of them. But, you can’t control what the other guys do.”
Perhaps most important is enjoying the overall experience.
“It’s about having fun. That’s seriously a big part of this as well,” said Passarelli. “Last time we went (to states), we kind of got beat up.”
He added: “If they’re relaxed, they’ll play well.”
Freedom boys golf roster:
Tyler Bray, senior (4-year letterman, 2014 District 3A-10 champion, 2015 District runner-up)
Nick Mitchell, senior (3-year letterman)
Cooper Smith, freshman
Sam Smith, senior (2-year letterman)
Cy Storlien, junior (3-year letterman, 2015 District 3A-10 champion, 2016 District 3A-10 champion)
District results at Hunter’s Green Golf & Country Club
Freedom Patriots team score: 309 (first place)
Regional results at Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor
Freedom Patriots team score: 313 (second place)
Other locals: Gaither freshman Tyler Wilkes is competing in the 3A state golf tournament as an individual. Wilkes won the Class 3A, Region 4 tournament on Oct. 17, shooting a 72. Wesley Chapel High’s Ben Wolfman (senior) and Sunlake High’s Travis Wells (senior) will compete in the Class 2A state golf tournament on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
Published October 26, 2016