BY COREY CUSICK THE TIMES-GEORGIAN
Making its fifth consecutive appearance at the GHSA Golf State Championships, the Carrollton High School boys' golf team is hitting its stride upon putting in final preparations for the stretch run.
The Trojans will tee up as one of 12 qualifiers among the field at Planterra Ridge Country Club in Peachtree City on Monday and Tuesday in pursuit of the Class AAAAA crown.
Carrollton head coach Kurt Hitzeman said it's going to take a special day to climb to the top of an elite flight of programs, but it's certainly not out of the question for the Trojans to do so.
"We're in the top half of the field right now and, obviously, as an area champion we've proven that we can win," Hitzeman said. "When it comes to competing for a state title, our guys are going to have to be hitting on all cylinders. At times, we've had one kid in a tournament go low. We're going to have to have four go low at the same time, which we have not done yet this year. We certainly have the capability of doing that. It's just a matter of, hey, it's got to be done on Monday and Tuesday."
The Trojans fired a round of 327 to win the Area 4-AAAAA title on May 1, putting them in the No. 6 spot among the 12 qualifying teams. Defending state champion and state host Starr's Mill tied with Statesboro for the lowest score coming out of area at 312, followed by Ola (316), Wayne County (317), Buford (320) and Carrollton among the the top half. The No. 7 through No. 12 spots are occupied by South Effingham, Riverwood, Ware County, McIntosh, Harris County and Veterans, respectively.
Very much a young squad this spring with three upperclassmen and three freshmen among the top six, the future is bright for the Trojan program. But that doesn't mean they're shooting for moral victories on this year's trip to state.
With senior Clay Fontenot and juniors Cole New and Mario Perezcassar III serving as the veterans, freshmen Luke Pezold, Jacob Shadrix and Will Griffith have proven they're more than ready for the big stage of tournament golf.
"We've been out here working as hard as we can for several weeks. Right now we're in crunch time," Fontenot said. "The weather is getting really rough, so we're trying to get in as much as we can before the weather does come and hopefully it can stay away long enough for us to get what we need to get done, do our business and shoot a good round."
The Trojans have familiarized themselves with Planterra Ridge and feel it is a pretty straightforward course where there aren't too many tough decisions, sans for a few holes.
"We've been there a couple of times and had a practice round a week ago. It's a beautiful course. The greens are rolling nice. It was great to have a chance to go out there and play," Fontenot said. "Honestly, I think we're as ready as we can be."
As is the case every year during the three-week layover from area to state, it can be somewhat of a chore in breaking the monotony of practice to where players aren't getting burned out, but also not losing that edge.
Carrollton has held a number of in-house competitions and put different things on the line in each instance, but one of the most enjoyable outings was an alumni event where several former Trojan stars returned to take on the current players and offer a showing of support on the eve of state.
"One of the things I've always wanted to do is build up the base of alumni that's always been there to come out and help our program," Hitzeman said. "Last week before state we were able to get a bunch of really good former Trojans, recent graduates mostly, to come out and play with the guys. That's important. Not only were these guys who came back really good golfers, but it also shows our guys now that they care. They care about the direction of this program and that what they experienced at Carrollton was important and special for them. They want the next group of golfers to experience the same types of positive things that they experienced going through the program."
As for the state of Trojan golf with five state final appearances in five years under Hitzeman, the Carrollton head man said there's a great deal of pride in the direction it's headed, but still plenty of work to do.
"Carrollton golf is in a place now where very few in the state are. We're able to provide things for our kids now that, quite simply, others can't. If we keep our kids playing golf and working hard, we also have the talent in the pipeline to not only have those opportunities, but then take advantage of those opportunities and not just win a nine-hole match on weekdays, but go to some big-time tournaments and win. That's where I'm looking," Hitzeman said. "We are very proud of where the program is. But at the same time, I don't know if it will ever be enough for people around here. And we'll never be satisfied."
And the Trojans certainly aren't satisfied by simply being among the final 12 teams still standing in Class AAAAA. They want to make a run at the crown early next week, and they believe they have the talent to do it.
"It's definitely going to take the best we've ever done. We've got to go out there and give it our all and leave nothing behind," Fontenot said. "There's some really good teams out there and if we want to beat them, we've got to beat ourself and post the lowest score we've ever posted and just give it our all."