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New training method gives Wildcats big lift

Wharton took to the track to increase its stamina and lower its scores.


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000

TAMPA -- As he analyzed the scores from last month's three-stroke loss to Chamberlain, Wharton boys golf coach Lee Gonzales noticed a pattern.

His players started strong only to lose focus and concentration on the final three holes.

But Gonzales did not send his players to the practice range or putting green to work on their games.

He directed them to the high school track.

"I thought the problem was conditioning," Gonzales said. "So I got them running."

Gonzales added 1- to 11/2-mile runs to his team's practice schedule. In time, carrying a 60-pound bag for nine holes in the heat of the day did not sap so much of his players' stamina.

Wharton (11-3) won six of its next seven matches, falling only to Berkeley Prep by a stroke. The Wildcats take that momentum into Monday's Class 2A, District 8 tournament. Play in the 16-team, 18-hole tournament begins at 7:45 a.m. at Carrollwood Village Golf & Tennis Club.

The top four teams and top four individuals not on those teams advance to the regional tournament Oct. 30 at Cleveland Heights Golf and Country Club.

From there, the top two teams and top two individuals not on those teams go to the state tournament the following week in Vero Beach.

Wharton, which lost only Eddie Pearce Jr. from last season's district championship squad, has a good chance to repeat.

King, Gaither and River Ridge also should contend for the team title.

Wharton's Brian Wertz finished second to Pearce at last year's district tournament. Wertz, teammates Mike Giammaresi and Joey Slater and Gaither's T.C. Siebert are among the players expected to battle for medalist honors.

Gonzales is not surprised.

"I fully expected us to have another chance to be the district champion," the coach said. "And with the new region (tournament), I thought we'd have a better than even chance to be one of the two teams that went on to states."

Wharton's success the past two years disguises the fact that the school is in just its fourth year of existence. After a competitive first year, the Wildcats won the Western Conference Championship in 1998.

Wharton hit its stride last year, winning the district championship and placing ninth in the state. The team was the first in school history to make a state tournament.

"We've been getting better every year," said Slater, a senior. "The first year, we were playing what we'd consider bad now, but we kept getting better."

The program came so far in the past year that two members of the district championship team did not even make this year's squad.

Freshmen David Tiffenberg and Matt Johnson outshot two upperclassmen in a qualifier to earn spots on the team. Tiffenberg became the team's No. 5 golfer, with a nine-hole scoring average of 40. Johnson's average of 45 is 10th on the team.

"That was why I had great visions for this year," Gonzales said.

Except for a surprising road loss to Gaither, the team has met its coach's expectations.

Playing without Giammaresi and Tiffenberg, Wharton stumbled to a one-stroke loss last month to a Gaither team it handled easily a year ago.

Wharton quickly bounced back, shooting a season-best 141 in a victory over previously unbeaten Zephyrhills. The win set the tone for the remainder of the season.

"We knew that was going to be one of the best teams we'd face this year," Tiffenberg said. "We thought if we could start off well against them, it would give us confidence that we could carry into our other matches."

Wharton further added to its confidence by beating Jesuit by three strokes while losing to Berkeley Prep by just one in a tri-match Oct. 4.

Two weeks ago, the Wildcats defeated Plant City, which entered the match 13-0.

With players such as Austin Sherman and Giammaresi driving the ball 265 to 275 yards, Wharton is strong off the tee.

But Gonzales said a different facet of the game will determine how the Wildcats fare at the district tournament.

"When they're playing well, it's just like the PGA Tour," Gonzales said. "Putting."

Stamina has been addressed.

Wharton boys scoring averages

1. Joey Slater, Sr., 38.2

2. Brian Wertz, Jr., 38.5

3. Kevin Oliver, Sr., 39.4

4. Mike Giammaresi, So., 39.8

5. David Tiffenberg, Fr., 40

6. Eric Schmuki,Jr., 41

7. Austin Sherman, Jr., 41.8

8. David Christie, Sr., 42

9. Alex Rangel, Jr., 43

10. Matt Johnson, Fr., 45

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