After a ninth-place finish at last year's Class 3A state tournament at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, The Lakewood Ranch girls golf team appears to be ready for a big step forward.
The Mustangs are coming off a second-place finish at the 2020 Donald Ross Invitational Oct. 5 at Sara Bay Country Club, but the team that beat them by four strokes (224-228) was Riverview, a team expected to be a state title contender.
Add in the fact Lakewood Ranch finished 36 strokes ahead of the third-place team, Venice, at Sara Bay.
Indications are the Mustangs will shoot better than the 647 (71 over par) they recorded over two rounds of state tournament play last year.
A large reason for the Mustangs' surge is senior Ashleigh Angelo, the team's No. 1 golfer. Angelo took medalist honors at the Donald Ross tournament, shooting three under par (69) and besting last year's Class 3A state champion in Riverview's Jacqueline Putrino, who finished third (76). Angelo said she's happy with where her game is. She has learned that she gets the most out of herself by not thinking too much about anything.
"Right now, I'm just going shot by shot," Angelo said. "I don't worry about the score. I just keep fighting."
The other Mustangs have been sharp, too. Mustangs sophomore Lauren Hosier said she's feeling "so-so" about her own game, but she is on the upswing. Irons have been her setback, she said. Getting consistent contact with those clubs is a key to her regaining her best form. Hosier said she believes the regional tournament could be the turning point. Her wedge play has been solid and her chipping has been strong.
"We have all been working through things on our own," Hosier said of her teammates. "We're all getting there. We've had strong scores the last two tournaments."
It all came together at the team's district meet, held Oct. 12 at Heritage Harbour Golf & Eatery. Lakewood Ranch breezed past the field, shooting 307, 94 strokes better than second-place Lennard High. Angelo again took medalist honors, shooting two over par (74), but it was the rest of the team that impressed her. All five Mustangs players finished one through five in the standings. Depth will be important at the state tournament.
Mustangs coach Mick Koczersut said he is proud of the way his team has stayed focused on the bigger picture, never getting too up or down. That attitude shows itself in practice, Hosier said, when the girls are not afraid to laugh at each other when someone hits a poor shot. Post-tournament meals at Applebee's or PDQ are common. Even though golf is an individual activity, the Mustangs have embraced the high school version's team nature.
"These girls are some of my best friends," Hosier said. "They are awesome people."
For the Mustangs to advance to the state tournament, they will have to make it through the regional tournament, held Oct. 20 at Sarasota's Misty Creek Country Club. It's more of a mental obstacle than anything, as three teams from the tournament automatically qualify for the state tournament and more at-large bids are available as well, but Angelo said the team cannot afford to take it less seriously.
(Update: Lakewood Ranch did qualify for states, finishing second and shooting 313 as a team, 15 strokes behind Riverview High. Ashleigh Angelo shot two under par (70) to finish second individually, two strokes behind Riverview's Jacqueline Putrino.)