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Merizalde raises the bar

The Zephyrhills senior is improving her golf game as she approaches her last chance to make states before she graduates.

Published October 8, 2006

ZEPHYRHILLS - As a 9-year-old, Justina Merizalde tagged along with her parents and uncle when they golfed in West Tampa.

From the outset, Julio and Patricia Merizalde, along with Patricia's brother William Sepulveda, witnessed the power in Justina's drives down the fairway.

"We were amazed she could keep up with us," Patricia said. "The first time she drove, our mouths were open. She had good distance."

Back then, Merizalde drove the ball about 150 yards. Nowadays, those shots measure in the 200-plus range.

That part of her game, she said, has come naturally and helped her win numerous Greater Tampa Bay Junior Golf tournaments, mostly in the past two years.

A four-year golfer at Zephyrhills, the senior captain twice made the all-Sunshine Athletic Conference second team for her top-10 tournament finishes. Last week, Merizalde elevated her game and not only made first team, but also was an SAC medalist at Hidden Creek.

The distance, as it always has been, was there. But Merizalde's 31-31-62, 1-under par at Zephyrhills' home course, also showed off her vastly improved short game.

Merizalde said her chipping and putting improved by playing more junior golf the past two years - and the fact this is her last shot at making state.

"Before, I couldn't even stay on the green," Merizalde said. "I have taken the game more seriously. I want to be the best."

Merizalde, who spent two years as the Bulldogs' No. 2 player and is in her second season as the team's ace, tied Wesley Chapel's T.J. Adipietro for first in the SAC tournament. But Adipietro was disqualified after a controversy about her ball marking.

"I was like happy and sad," Merizalde said. "I was sad for Adipietro, but it didn't really overshadow it."

Zephyrhills finished as the SAC runnerup to six-time champion Mitchell. Sharing that accomplishment with her teammates is something else Merizalde relishes.

"This year, she's really become the leader of the team," coach Richard Green said. "She's definitely more outgoing, cutting the fool, making the girls laugh. Last year, she was real quiet."

Julio Merizalde offered a reason why his daughter has come out of her shell and is playing better than ever.

"I think it finally hit her that this is her senior year and this is her last shot at going to state," Julio Merizalde said. "She's really pushing herself."

Contact Steve Lee at

[Last modified October 8, 2006, 07:22:42]

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