“I feel some pressure that we should at least get close to another title,” said the 18-year-old between practice chips on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Tracy Golf and Country Club, the Bulldogs’ home course.
The lone returning senior from the 15-0 2012 squad that finished four strokes short of the Masters postseason tournament said he and the other experienced players need to “step up and shoot well” to stay on top.
“I want to lead this team to another championship,” Erler said.
Coach Derek Solano, in his 13th season as Tracy High’s coach, said Lodi will challenge for the league crown since the Bulldogs have lost three starters.
But with eight of the 10 players on the team members at the country club, he said there is “every opportunity to get better.”
“They say success breeds success,” Solano said, “and I think our kids have bought into that.”
Junior Shivam Swamy, 16, says the team should set its sights on repeating as SJAA champs.
“I’d say our team is a bit younger — we’ve lost a few players,” he said. “I think that would be a good goal for our team.”
Swamy, who hopes to make it as far as Masters as an individual, said getting a good start on each nine-hole match and keeping “a clear mind and a clear conscience” are his keys to success.
“The mental side is what makes golf one of the hardest sports,” he said, “especially under a pressure situation.”
Talon Simmons, 15, endured plenty of pressure in 2012 as a freshman who played in the league tournament in which Tracy defeated Lodi by one stroke to secure the SJAA title.
The sophomore said that “exciting” experience has given him a bit of an advantage this year.
“We’re going to come back just as strong as last year — we just need practice, practice, practice,” he said. “Being through it once, I know what to expect.”
The Bulldogs had their first nine-hole match of the season Thursday against Moreau Catholic. Scores were not available as of press time.
Nine Kimball High golfers surrounded a practice green Monday, Feb. 25, focusing on chips, bunker blasts and putts at Tracy Golf and Country Club.
Coach Sean Rivera said it will be practices like this one that could help the young team contend against the Valley Oak League’s powerhouses.
“This is where they lose most of their shots, right around the green,” Rivera said. “What kills their scores are the sevens, eights and nines.”
Last year, Kimball finished 15-7 overall and 8-6 in league, according to Rivera, good for third place.
According to sophomore Reese Maxfield — who Rivera said will help form “the heart” of this season’s relatively inexperienced team — the loss of three seniors from the 2012 campaign will be a challenge to overcome.
The second-year varsity player hopes to lower his personal scores, which would help the team overall.
“I’d like to be shooting four or five over (par for nine holes) or less,” the 15-year-old said. “This year, it’s going to be more difficult to win matches, because last year we had three really good seniors who aren’t with us this year.”
Rivera and co-coach Gary Moore, who have coached Kimball’s golf team since its inaugural season in 2010, expect the team will be competitive even if it doesn’t challenge for a league title.
Moore said a lack of full-time golfers puts the squad at a disadvantage compared to VOL-leaders like Sonora, Oakdale and East Union.
It’s one of the reasons Moore hopes to help players “learn to love the game” and take it up on their own time.
“Most of our top six are capable of a low-40s score (on nine holes),” Moore said. “If we get to the point where we’re having guys play outside of school, we’ll be a ton better.”
Kimball won its Tuesday, Feb. 26, season-opening match against Stagg High of Stockton, 244-281.
West Wolf Pack
A couple seasons ago, West High almost didn’t field a boys golf team, according to coach Matt Loggins.
But on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Old River Golf Course, six golfers were competing in the team’s first match of the season against Sierra High, with three more practicing and two more set to join the club Thursday, Feb. 28.
Loggins, coaching his 13th season, said it’s part of “rebuilding” the program.
“A lot of it is enjoyment,” Loggins said. “I want to keep the kids coming back.”
Last season, the Wolf Pack finished fifth out of six teams in the Tri-City Athletic League.
Loggins said he didn’t know how high in the standings his squad might finish this season, but hopes players continually improve.
“I think we’ll become a little better (over the course of the season),” Loggins said. “We’re very blue collar — some of these guys, it’s their first experience playing golf.
He expects junior Austin Smith, a second-year varsity player who’s taken up the game “full time,” and newcomer senior Mark Olson to lead the team.
The Wolf Pack lost their league-opener against Sierra, 224-223. Loggins is optimistic that his team’s overall scores will only get lower as the season progresses.
“New guys, they are going to go shoot big numbers,” he said, “but those scores are going to come down.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.