Leopards drive at district
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- It's not that the Hernando boys team doesn't want to defend its Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament title. A third consecutive would be great.
But after two seasons of romping through the tourney -- last year by a 25-stroke margin -- then exploding in the postseason, the Leopards have adjusted their priorities.
"Conference really doesn't matter," said junior Keegan Ledford, Hernando's No. 1 player. "As you've seen the past two years, we've done really well at conference and we got to districts and did really poorly. This year, I care about conference, but I'm focusing on districts. If we don't win conference, oh well."
The Leopards entered the past two postseasons a combined 32-7 but failed to finish in the top four and advance to regionals. Hernando placed fifth in 2000 and last in 2001 because of two disqualifications.
The Leopards have been anything but dominating this season. They're 2-4 and struggling with the graduation of Matt Johnson and GCAC medalist Chandler Beasley. The loss of those seniors has been felt more than just on the scorecard. Hernando had its team together for the first time in a 26-stroke victory over Springstead on Tuesday. Disciplinary measures had robbed the Leopards of two matches from Ledford and five from Fred Farmer, among the area's top golfers.
Farmer missed matches because he was serving a suspension for leaving school unauthorized and turned in his paperwork to play sports after deadline. Ledford and Farmer could miss Johnson, who always was there to rein them in and led by example. Now the juniors are the leaders, although Ledford just turned 16 and Farmer is 17.
"They had a lot of respect for the older ones," Hernando coach Pete Lahey said. "Matt had more work ethic than some of the younger ones I have now, and I think we really don't have any senior leadership this year.
"With Matt playing hurt and being out there everyday, it shows you, hey, you come and practice and go play in matches and play the best you can," Lahey said. "He set the example, and everyone else sort of followed suit."
Ledford and Farmer set an unmistakable example for play, and Farmer said he's willing to assert himself as a leader.
"(Johnson and Beasley) made a pretty big impact on the team. They were two good players," Farmer said. "Hopefully, I could help as much or more than they did. And hopefully, I won't miss any more matches."
That means no more broken rules. Lahey, a disciplinarian, hopes the Leopards finally have learned their lesson.
"They're going to do what needs to be done," he said. "My team will act like gentlemen on the course if they play for me.
"We're 1-3 in conference, and we should be a lot better. But because some of the other things that are going on, the young kids have been playing a lot, and when you play three freshmen, it's tough to win a match."
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