When it comes to high school golf in Osceola County, St. Cloud has pretty much been the gold standard. The boys’ team has won four consecutive Orange Belt Conference championships; while the girls’ team has topped that with six straight team titles. Last year, St. Cloud became the first school in Osceola County history to qualify both its boys and girls teams to the state championship in the same year.
And while the Lady Bulldogs will be highly favored to run their string to seven, Celebration – with five golfers capable of breaking 40 – will be out to end St. Cloud’s dominance on the boys’ side. The Storm have already defeated St. Cloud twice this season, taking a 149-155 win in the season opener and then shot an impressive two-over 146 in defeating the Bulldogs and Gateway Panthers in a three-way match last week.
Depth is the key for Storm. With the top four scores counting for matches, Celebration has five golfers capable of shooting par or better – including Will Cooper, George Aguilera, Jeremiah Bianchi, Ethan Badillo and Braden Plaisted. In the second match with St. Cloud, Cooper posted a one-under 35; Aguilera and Bianchi shot level par and Badillo was at three-over 39 – a score that was matched by Plaisted.
Still, first year St. Cloud coach Dylan Rensel is not quite ready to concede the title to the Storm.
Although St. Cloud lost two outstanding golfers including 2022 OBC champion Gunnar Green to graduation, they still have three golfers capable of shooting par or better in Alexander Owen (38.7 scoring average), Espn Pool (37.2) and Ethan Parish (37.2). The key for St. Cloud will be for a fourth golfer to step up and that effort will most likely have to come from newcomers Blake Butler (48.0) or Mohammad Elkafir (48.0).
“We are playing on a positive trajectory both individually and collectively,” Rensel said. “Defending our OBC championship will not be easy, but with a good performance, it is certainly in reach. With our top three guys, we have a chance to shoot as low as anyone and our goal is to peak in time for district and regional competition.”
Tohopekaliga and Harmony are expected to battle for third place on the boys’ side. Sophomore Marcel Moran (39.0) is a candidate for All-OBC honors for Tohopekaliga; while seniors Tyler Sheffield (42.0) and Jason Barrientos (45.0) have shown the ability to routinely break 45. But as with several programs in the county, overall depth will most likely keep the Tigers out of team title contention. Harmony’s top players include Junior Cesar Gandia, with a 43.8 average; while freshman Mason Collier (46.0) and senior Kayden Lyons (46.8) give the Longhorns a solid base at the top of their roster.
The St. Cloud girls’ team has simply picked up where they left off last year.
First-year coach Alejandro Sanchez has four returning All-County selections – including sophomore and defending OBC champion Karolyna Adams –who currently ranks seventh in the district with a 39.2 scoring average. Cayden Challacombe (4th – 38.8), freshman Maddie Burda (9th – 40.7), senior Tess Shieve (10th-42.2) and senior Nadia Burda (15th – 44.7) gives the Lady Bulldogs five golfers ranked in the top 15 in their district.
Challacombe, whose scoring average is slightly higher than Adams, give St. Cloud a powerful one-two punch at the top of their roster as the Lady Bulldogs are 4-1 in dual meet play this year, with their only loss coming by four strokes to state power Lake Nona (165-169) and they also won their own invitational – topping a solid field that included Dr. Phillips, Lakeland, Viera and Windermere.
Celebration lost many of its top players to graduation and is in a rebuilding mode this season. Its top four players are underclassmen, with freshman Layla Link is the Storm’s top player. Harmony will most likely be in the hunt for second place at OBC’s. There top players include junior Aryana Persaud (45.0 scoring average) and seniors Bryanna White (53.6) and Allyson White (55.2).
The boys’ OBC Golf Championship is a one-day, 18-hole event slated for Monday, Oct. 16; with the girls’ tournament following on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Tee off time for both events is 8 a.m. at Royal St. Cloud Golf Club.