For the past few seasons of Foothill League boys golf, the battle for the league title has been pretty predictable. West Ranch usually returned with a loaded lineup and Hart was always ready to compete hard regardless of who was on the roster.
This season, the Wildcats again look solid, but Saugus and Valencia could be vying for the top spot, too.
The Centurions return all varsity golfers except for two who graduated last year. This season, there are five seniors in the lineup, with Jacob Valente and Rylie Watson constantly competing for the No. 1 spot.
Valente is a passionate golfer who spent 14 hours practicing at Vista Valencia on Sunday.
“If he was a basketball player you’d call him a gym rat,” said Saugus coach Cal Linam. “He has high expectations for himself. He’s forming confidence in a lot of areas where it’ll be crucial when it comes down to the tighter matches at the end when he needs to go low.”
Watson is more meticulous and calculated when it comes to the sport.
“Rylie is extremely smart, he’s in the 4’s GPA-wise and he carries that to the course and he makes good decisions and tends to be extremely accurate when he’s on,” Linam said. “He doesn’t make the big mistakes, he doesn’t get down on himself…even if he’s having a hard time, his attitude is to fight back.”
Junior Austin Hocutt and senior Chad Waitkus fill out the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, then senior Ethan Le Blanc is in the No. 5 slot.
Senior Joe McLaughlin and junior Aidan Aschoff are competing for the final spot in the lineup.
The Centurions placed sixth out of 18 teams at the Los Serranos Invitational and tied for fifth at the Oakmont Invitational a week later in preleague play. The constant competition between players has helped elevate the team’s game to get those results and will likely continue to pay dividends in league play.
“I don’t want them to worry so much about winning,” Linam said. “I’d rather have them focus on one shot at a time. But at the same time, I want them to know how proud I am of them putting the effort in and getting a chance to win.”
Valencia was an at-large bid for the playoffs last year, but the Vikings are looking to shed that image and become one of the dominant teams in the Foothill League this season.
The team finished nonleague play with a 5-1 record and came in fourth at the Spanish Hills Invitational. The golfers are battle-tested, playing tough courses like Sandpiper Golf Club in what coach Rob Waters estimates to be 40 mph winds.
The Vikings also lose just one golfer to graduation, returning most of the lineup, including No. 1 Cole Scully.
“Being his senior year, he’s been around the block, there’s no jitters like kids normally get in the beginning, but not anymore for him,” Waters said.
“The biggest thing besides experience is he hits the ball a mile. When you hit it that far, control is an issue and he’s gotten much better with that. He’s always had a really nice touch around the greens but I think his experience and ability to control his shots has really helped him.”
Three Vallesteros brothers populate the Valencia team and all of them are good. Zach Vallesteros is on his fourth year on varsity, Shawn Vallesteros is a junior and David Vallesteros is a freshman.
“Zach being a senior has a lot of experience is kind of nice. The two younger brothers can look to him for advice. It’s a great thing,” said Waters.
Hart, which finished second in league last season, could be in the mix for a league title if it is able to get experience quickly. The Indians lose just about everyone from last year’s team and are learning to become more consistent golfers every time they step on the course.
Cameron Gadd is Hart’s lone returner and has been embracing a leadership role.
“He’s done a good job of trying to cheerlead or motivate some of the other younger players that don’t have very much experience and so it’s been a little taxing for him because he’s playing but he’s also kind of coaching and helping the other guys at the same time,” said Indians coach Steve Lindberg. “And he’s doing a good job of that.”
West Ranch is a perennial contender for the Foothill League crown and this season looks to be no different.
Ben Valdez is shaping up to be the team’s best golfer, but coach Jeff Holen said his team is very well-rounded this season despite being younger. There are four sophomores, a senior and a junior in the Wildcats’ starting six.
“What I like about them is we don’t make big mistakes across the board,” Holen said. “If we have a big number, we don’t compound that with another big number. We’re able to forget about it and come back.”
While the Cats always have a shot to be the league’s best team, they could have a tougher road than usual with Saugus and Valencia gunning for the top spot.
“I’ve had them since they were freshmen, the seniors,” said Linam. “There’s five in the starting lineup. They’ve always had a goal to win league by their senior year and they’re digging deep and they’re bringing the effort and I’m proud of them so far.”