Dan PearsonBy: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

For the first time ever, Osceola County will be represented by both a girls and boys golf team when the FHSAA State Championships are contested next week at Mission Inn Resort and Club, Nov. 8-9.  That became a reality on Wednesday, when it was announced that the St. Cloud boys’ team was awarded one of four at-large berths in the Class 3A Tournament.

The Bulldogs join the St. Cloud girls’ team that punched their ticket to states by securing an automatic berth by placing third in their Region 2 Tournament on Tuesday afternoon at Royal St. Cloud.  The boys participated in the same region on Monday, placing fourth and missing an automatic spot by just one shot.

“The purpose of the at-large bids are to award spots to deserving teams that are playing in a particularly tough region where a fourth or fifth place team might have won or secured an automatic berth in a weaker regional,” St. Cloud Coach Jim Endicott said.  “They use a pretty precise mathematical formula to determine the at-large spots and based on what we shot in both districts and regionals I felt pretty good that we would be one of the at-large teams.  Still, you are always nervous until that announce it.”

The Lady Bulldogs, who are now making their second consecutive appearance, became just the second girls’ team from Osceola County to qualify for states when they received an at-large bid last year.  Although St. Cloud once sent a boys’ team to the state tournament for three consecutive years, that happened more than two decades ago. This is the first time in county history that two different teams from Osceola County qualified for the state tournament in the same year.  It is also the first time that a county school had qualified both a boys and girls team in the same season.

“Incredibly proud to have both teams going to states,” Endicott said.  “The wait on the boys’ side was nerve-racking, but they certainly gave a great performance on Monday to get in.  The girls got off to such a rough start but they showed a lot character in righting the ship and grinding out the rest of the round to get in.”

In the boys’ tournament that was held on Monday, Gunnar Green posted a two-under par 70 to lead the Bulldogs to an impressive five-over par team score of 293.  Alexander Owen shot even par 72, Espn Pool was two-over at 74 and Ethan Parrish was at 77 as Bulldogs compiled their lowest round of the season.

Despite the outstanding score, it was only good for fourth place as Cameron Baez (69), Ken Anderson (70), and Carson Baez (71) all broke par and Robert Howland carded a four-over 76 round as Windermere finished with a collective two-under par, 286 to win.  Winter Park (291) was second and Dr. Phillips (292) edged St. Cloud out for the third and final automatic qualifying spot.  

“If you would have told me at 8 a.m. Monday that St. Cloud was going to break 300 and shoot 11 shots lower than we did at districts, I would have gladly have taken that.  Last year 293 would have won three of the four regionals and would have grabbed an automatic qualifying spot in all four regionals,” Endicott said.  “But we had five outstanding teams in the regional and near-perfect scoring conditions and we ended up one shot short of getting an automatic spot.  Still it was a great performance.”

Although Endicott said they purposely set up the 6,792-yard course to be difficult, 13 different golfers ended up breaking par.  Those players included individual medalist Shawn Coultoff of West Orange, who posted a four-under 67.   Coultoff, South Lake’s Braden Hawkins (69) and Olympia’s Aaron Beach (69) punched their tickets to the state tournament as at-large individual qualifiers.

Although they will not be moving on to the state tournament, Celebration had an outstanding day on the course as well, finishing in seventh place at 304 – just 12 total shots back of an automatic qualifying spot.  The Storm was led with counting scores from Will Cooper (73), Ethan Badillo (74), George Aguilera (78) and Jeremiah Bianchi (79).  The 304 total was a season low for the Storm and was a full 13 shots better than their third place showing in the District 7 tournament a week earlier.

For as surprised as Endicott was that the Bulldogs did not gain an automatic spot in the boys tournament, he was actually relieved that the Lady Bulldogs gained an automatic spot after an incredibly difficult start on Tuesday.  St. Cloud’s five starters were a collective 18 shots over par after just five holes and were in significant danger of not qualifying.  

Freshman Karolyna Adams took a quadruple bogey on her second hole and stood at five over after just four holes.  She would rally with five birdies down the stretch to post an 80.  Jenna Barnett triple bogeyed number four and was four over after four, but played the final 14 holes in one-under to shoot 75 and tie for the 10th best round of the day.   Nadia Burda matched Adams with an 80 and Cayden Chellacombe posted 11 pars on her way to an 81 to round out the scoring for St. Cloud.

After the four counting scores were a collective 16 over par after 20 holes, they rallied to shoot +14 over the final 52 holes to post a team score of 316 and outdistance Vero Beach (344) for the third and final spot.  

Senior Mie Chan shot a two-over par 74 to lead four sub-80 rounds by Lake Nona golfers as the Lions repeated as regional champions with a team-low 302.  Viera (315) was solo second, followed by St. Cloud.  Windermere’s Wendi Wei was low medalist with a four-under 68 and will advance to the state tournament as an individual; as will Dr. Phillips Elan Zhang (71) and East River’s Ann Burel (72).

Harmony and Celebration also qualified for the Region 2 Championship, giving Osceola County a record five golf teams (2 boys, 3 girls) to qualify for regionals in the same year.  Harmony finished in eighth place overall with a 371 total; while Celebration was 11th with a 423.  Top golfers from Harmony included Jordan Pigeon (82) and Norah Baker (91); while Celebration was led by Arianna Leon (76) and Erin Ozyurek (96).

The FHSAA tournament is a 36-hole, stroke-play event contested over two days.  The boys will play from 6,764 yards and the girls from 5,405 yards.  Par is 72 for each.  “There’s no question it is going to be a challenge.  It’s a difficult and hilly course which could take its toll by the second day,” Endicott said.