LAKEWOOD RANCH — Although Rocky Khara has played in a number of American Junior Golf Association tournaments, he never has stood atop the leaderboard.
That all changed two weeks ago when the Mustangs’ No. 1 player won the AJGA’s Mayakoba Junior Golf Classic Aug. 17-20 near Cancun, Mexico. Khara shot a 6-over 216 on the PGA course to win the tournament by two strokes over Mexico’s own Sebastian Vazquez.
“I felt relieved, and it was a real confidence-booster for me,” Khara said. “I’ve always been up there, but this was my first win. Not only that, but it also got me into the invitational tournament (circuit), which I’m really looking forward to.”
Khara spent nearly every day this summer competing and now the Lakewood senior is poised to lead the Mustangs for the second-consecutive season.
“I’m just going to try to do my best to help them out and make them better,” said Khara, who won both district and regional titles last season.
Last season, the Mustangs advanced to the state tournament for the fifth time, finishing 15th, however it wasn’t quite the performance the Mustangs had envisioned.
“We didn’t really play well,” coach Dave Frantz said. “Aside from Rocky, it was everyone’s first time going to states, and there was that whole learning factor. It’s hard to prepare someone for something they’ve never done before.”
With five returning players and four new underclassmen, the Mustangs have the ability to return to the state tournament.
The Mustangs will begin their season at home Sept. 8 against Bradenton Christian, Cardinal Mooney and Bayshore.
Unlike their counterparts, the Lady Mustangs will be without their No. 1 player from a season ago in Ericka Schneider, who is now playing golf at Daytona State College, leaving the Lakewood’s No. 1 position up for grabs.
“I’m curious to see who is going to rise up to the occasion and fill the spot that she left,” first-year coach Wendi Golden said. “I couldn’t tell you who is going to lead the way at this point, but I see a lot of glimmers of hope and I’m excited for the season.”
Last season, the Lady Mustangs returned to the state tournament, finishing eighth. This season, Golden will look to junior team captain Brooke Martin and fellow junior Alison Murdock and seniors Amy Besio and Monica Danforth to help lead the Lady Mustangs.
The Lady Mustangs will open their season Sept. 8 at Braden River.
Junior Melissa Malanczuk didn’t think much of it when she first picked up a golf club last year.
But after hitting a few golf balls, Malanczuk decided to join the Lady Pirates golf team. Now after steadily improving over the past year, she is looking to further advance her game in the hopes of earning a scholarship.
Helping Malanczuk improve this season will be PGA Professional and first-year coach Jacques Panet-Raymond.
“I think it’s exciting,” Malanczuk said of learning under Panet-Raymond. “I think we’re going to do so much better because now we have help every day at the range. We’re really lucky girls.”
Leading the way for Braden River will be junior Kristen Swindell, who returns to the team after taking last season off to focus more on practice and competition. Additionally, the Lady Pirates roster also features four freshmen that Panet-Raymond is eager to work with during the next four years.
“I’m looking for them to improve dramatically from the beginning of the year until the end, and hopefully we’ll be a state championship team in a couple years,” Panet-Raymond said. “There’s really a lot of potential here. We’re a very young team, so it’s going to be exciting to work with them and see them grow.”
The Braden River boys team, which finished 8-7 last season, also features a host of new players. Leading the way for the Pirates this season will be seniors Tyler McCarthy, who advanced to the regional tournament last season, and Christian Lizardi and junior Breck White.
“I think we’ll be strong (this season),” coach Damon Ackerman said. “We have some new young guys who are looking really (good). We had more talent my first year coaching, but we’re stronger this year than we ever have been.”
The Pirates will return to action Sept. 8 at Palmetto.
THE OUT-OF-DOOR ACADEMY
After an undefeated regular season, The Out-of-Door Academy boys golf team faltered in the district tournament.
But with the majority of its team still in tact, including state champion Zach Balit, ODA has the potential to return to the district tournament. Joining Balit in a leadership role for the Thunder will be senior transfer Blake Soni.
“We are strong at the one and two spots but fall off after that,” coach Shelley Stone said. “I am hoping that, at the very least, Zach and Blake can qualify for the state finals.”
The Lady Thunder will be without their No. 1 player in Gaby Balit, who is now playing golf for Vanderbilt University. This year’s squad features just two players in juniors Caitlin Anderson and Spencer Feder.
ODA will begin its season at Sept. 10.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Food and fun
The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and its Young Leaders Alliance have something to talk about: the organizations collected 764 pounds of nonperishable food and $1,295 cash to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee/Meals on Wheels PLUS.
River Club’s Cheryl Kaufman says she’s still pinching herself.
A little “Ho! Ho! Ho!” can go a long way this holiday season.