TAMPA — The Jesuit High boys golf team shrugged off a pair of one-stroke losses to Steinbrenner and Plant last week, by defeating Wharton 168-175 at Hunter’s Green on Tuesday.
Matt Ruel, who earned Tampa Tribune second-team all-county recognition, was a breakout freshman last season as the Tigers captured the district crown. However, last season ended in disappointment for the Tigers as they were edged out of a state tournament berth by Tampa Catholic (the district runner-up) at the region tournament.
This year, Ruel made an impression by posting a 31 in his first match of the season as Jesuit topped Gaither and Chamberlain at Northdale. He followed it up with 36 and 34 at his first two matches at Cheval.
“It’s come from putting in a lot of work with my coach,” Ruel said. “It’s just working on everything, course management, working on my swing, my putting, just working every day trying to get better and better.”
Ruel, 15, followed up his successful high school season in 2012 with an even better offseason of amateur play.
“I was 3 years old when (my dad) handed me a club in my backyard,” Ruel said. “I kept hitting all day and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Ruel had four wins (Greater Tampa Tournament of Champions, Premier Tour at USF, Florida Junior Tour qualifier and Tampa Bay Championships at TPC) this spring and has five other top-10 finishes statewide, as well as a pair of top-15 finishes in Florida State Golf Association events.
The two high school losses, though, are a new experience for Ruel, as the Tigers finished the regular season undefeated in 2012.
“We lost both of those matches by a single stroke,” Ruel said. “It is really heartbreaking after last year, where we were undefeated in the regular season.”
“To drop two matches by a stroke each, I guess you could say it kind of rattled us. We can definitely learn from it.”
Durant making noise early in season
Last season’s fifth-place district finish may have had Durant’s girls team flying below the radar, but the secret is slowly starting to slip out. The Cougars have started the year 4-1, and longtime coach Dick Sheffield said he fully expects his team to be in the hunt at the district tournament.
The Cougars’ lone loss was to undefeated Plant City by 12 strokes, but Durant was without one of its top golfers — Tori Higgins — at Walden Lakes last week. The two teams square off again today at River Hills, and Sheffield said he is looking forward to seeing how his team matches up against the Raiders.
“We’ll really know by (today) when we have Tori Higgins in there,” Sheffield said. “Plant City beat us by 12 strokes at Walden Lakes, and I’ll find out how far we’ve come along then.”
Higgins and Krista Reinhardt, both juniors who Sheffield said are “neck-and-neck,” have been shooting in the 30s consistently this season. Sheffield said he is seeing big improvements from seniors Samantha Rentz, Shannon Bell and Natalie Knopp. The coach added that all three are capable of posting scores in the 90s come district tournament time, which could make the Cougars a player for a region berth.
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