Columbus, ranked fourth all-time in team state championships, is ready to challenge for another one.
Led by junior Sharif Amastha, last year’s region runner-up and winner of the 16-18 boys’ title at the Sept. 3-5 Hurricane Junior Golf Tour 54-Hole Challenge at Howey-in-the-Hills, the Explorers have the talent to live up to expectations to make their fourth consecutive state appearance.
Amastha, a scholar-athlete, is expected to be the school’s first Ivy League golfer.
“We are still not playing our best golf which is scary,” said seventh-year coach Mike Marinelli who lost only one golfer off last year’s team.
“If everybody starts clicking at the same time we are going to be very tough to beat,” Marinelli said. “Golf is a funny game, kids can go into slumps, but if everyone plays the way they are supposed to play we will be challenging.”
Amastha is joined by junior Roberto Nieves, ranked among the nation’s top juniors in his graduation class and senior Jake Moscoso, who competed in the recent Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. The tournament featured 81 PGA tour champions and 81 top junior golfers. Moscoso is the third Columbus golfer in five years to compete in the prestigious tournament. Moscoso’s father, John, is a swim coach at Melreese Country Club, the team’s home course.
Other members of the team are seniors Robby de Paz and Javi Rodriguez, juniors Joel Garcia-Lee and Tyler Whitney and freshman Ernesto Perabeles.
The Explorers have lost only one district title in 20 years. Columbus won its first team state title in 1999 and back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. No Dade team has won since.
The program has produced several top golfers including 2002 state champion James Vargas, a state record holder for the most individual state titles with three. He is currently a pro golfer.
“Columbus usually is one of the top contenders in the county,” Marinelli said. “We are trying to compete at states, that’s the most important part of the season. It’s the hardest thing to do nowadays in Orlando with all the good teams. We will do well in Broward and Dade, but [the state tournament] is a whole new ballgame.”
Columbus has a junior varsity program which will help with depth and building for the future.
“The future of the program looks good,” Marinelli said. “We have a good crop of seventh, eighth and ninth graders coming up. We want to keep those kids around and playing so we are building that program from the ground up. By the time they get to the varsity level, they are ready to go.”
Marinelli likes to beef up his team’s schedule and is always looking for the top competition. He scheduled American Heritage which would have been one of the best matches of the season but was rained out.
“We want to play the big hometown tournaments. You always want to win in Dade County. It sets you up for the playoff run. It’s great to win now, but we want to play our best golf at end of the season. There’s only one tournament that counts. The goal is to get into states every year and play our best golf at the end of the season.”
While there are very few top boys teams in Dade, there is plenty of individual talent including last season’s top golfer, Cole Castro, a senior at South Dade. Palmer Trinity freshman Cameron Piedra returns as defending Youth Fair medalist.
“The quality of golfers is there,” said Marinelli, a Columbus and University of Miami alum. “We have depth and experience. Most teams wish they had three or four guys that can break 75, we have eight of those guys.
Marinelli picked up the game after college. The former football player enjoys playing with his team. “I’m not bad but not amazing, I know the rules,” Marinelli said.
“My dream is to win a state title for Columbus. I won’t be satisfied until I win one. That’s the goal to compete and win one. Obviously, we have to get there first by taking it one meet at a time. We have got to win the district and region. If we are around on day one of state and able to close, we will be right there.”
The Explorers are off to a good start. At the Westminster Tournament at the Biltmore, Columbus was third behind top-ranked teams King’s Academy and Vero Beach while finishing ahead of Archbishop McCarthy. The Explorers defeated Belen in a 9-hole match at Doral; won an 18-hole match against Palmer Trinity, Westminster and Calvary Christian at Crandon; beat Ransom by shooting under par (141) with Amastha missing the course record by one stroke; and defeated Gulliver Prep by one stroke at the Biltmore.
“I know what our golfers are capable of and I think we will be okay,” Marinelli said.
In the girls’ competition, there is no clear-cut favorite. Ransom Everglades, Doral Academy, Our Lady of Lourdes, Coral Reef, Carrollton, Palmetto and Divine Savior all have top individual talent.
Doral Academy, led by Giuliana Gomez, Ana Carolina Ojeda and Samiah Bodden recently defeated Gulliver Prep and Our Lady of Lourdes to stake a claim as one of this season’s team favorites.
Carrollton is led by junior Tanya Eathakotti; district and region champion Alicia Cappellaro leads Divine Savior; Ransom Everglades is led by Phoebe Beber-Frankel, whose brother Jake plays for the boys team; Our Lady of Lourdes is led by sophomore Daniella Spillert; Palmetto’s top golfer is junior Alexa Rivas and Coral Reef is led by Abigail Chai-Onn.
BOYS TO WATCH
Sharif Amastha, Columbus; Jake Beber-Frankel, Ransom Everglades; Logan Bryant, Palmetto; Cole Castro, South Dade; Robby de Paz, Columbus; Kristian Fortis, Palmer Trinity; Joel Garcia-Lee, Columbus; Jordan Laklak, Pametto; David Lechter, Hillel; Roman Lopez, Gulliver; J.P. Mehu, Westminster Christian; Jake Moscoso, Columbus; Chris Nido, Gulliver; Roberto Nieves, Columbus; Ernesto Perabeles, Columbus; Cameron Piedra, Palmer Trinity; Javi Rodriguez, Columbus; Tyler Thompson, Coral Reef; Tyler Whitney, Columbus.
GIRLS TO WATCH
Phoebe Beber-Frankel, Ransom Everglades; Alicia Cappellaro, Divine Savior; Abigail Chai-On, Coral Reef; Tanya Eathakotti, Carrollton; Giuliana Gomez, Doral Academy; Tori Hagenlocker, Gulliver Prep; Sophia Martinez, Gulliver Prep;Ana Carolina Ojeda, Doral Academy; Daniella Perez, Westminster Christian; Alexa Rivas, Palmetto; Daniella Spillert, Our Lady of Lourdes.
DEFENDING STATE GIRLS CHAMPIONS
Class 3A: Lake Mary
Class 2A: Archbishop McCarthy
Class 1A: Lake Mary Prep
DEFENDING STATE BOYS CHAMPIONS
Class 3A: Lake Mary
Class 2A: Ponte Vedra
Class 1A: Lake Mary Prep
Sept. 16, Ida Baker Invitational
Sept. 19, Columbus at Cardinal Gibbons
Sept. 20, Dade County Youth Fair Tournament, Palmetto
Sept. 21, Archbishop McCarthy at Columbus, Grand Palms
Sept. 22-24, Lakewood Ranch Tournament
Sept. 29, GMAC Championships, Redlands
Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Tournament of Champions, Davenport
Oct. 4, Maverick Invitational, Redlands
Oct. 6, Columbus at Belen, Doral
Oct. 6-8, Honda Classic, PGA National
Oct. 10-12, District tournaments
Oct. 17-19, Region tournaments
Oct. 25-26, Class 3A State Meet, Howey-in-the-Hills
Oct. 28-29, Class 1A State Meet, Howey-in-the-Hills
Nov. 1-2, Class 2A State Meet, Howey-in-the-Hills