Columbiana's Jason Hall also is headed to the state tournament in Division III.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- The John F. Kennedy High boys golf team is back in its comfort zone.
After a one-year absence, the Eagles have returned to an event with which they've become quite familiar over the years -- the Division III state tournament.
"We didn't get down there last year, so the kids were bound and determined to get back again," JFK coach Bob Todd said. "We put it all together and we made it."
JFK will be joined weekend at Ohio State University by Columbiana senior Jason Hall, who shot 80 at the district level to qualify as an individual.
Prior to last year's hiatus from the state tournament, JFK had qualified three straight times, winning back-to-back championships in 2000-01 and finishing runner-up in 2002.
Can the Eagles add to their impressive r & eacute;sum & eacute; when the two-day tournament begins Friday morning at OSU's Gray Course?
"We're not going down there to play for second or third," Todd said. "You've got to have that positive attitude."
Todd will take six golfers with him to Columbus, led by senior Pat Moro, the lone team member with state tournament experience.
Moro is the Eagles' No. 1 golfer who has spent the week relating his past state experience to teammates.
"You're playing in front of such a large crowd, so it's important not to get ahead of yourself," Moro told them. "You need to pretend they're not there. You're here to be part of the team and help us win this thing."
Following Moro to Columbus will be juniors Nick Moody, Zack Bowen, Matt Nuzzi and Jimmy Pipino and sophomore Scott Difford.
"We knew we could get at least one guy down there," Moro said, "but we were more focused on taking the whole team down. It's more rewarding."
First, JFK needed to overcome a challenging district tournament, where only two teams and two individuals qualify for state. Not only that, but the Eagles haven't been playing consistently for much of the season, clouding their state-qualifying possibilities.
"The week before sectionals, we weren't playing well," Moro said. "Mr. Todd was getting nervous, and there was doubt about whether we could even get out of the sectional. We had to buckle down and look at the big picture."
Behind Moro's 79 in the district, JFK finished runner-up to Gilmour Academy at Seven Hills Country Club in Hartville to guarantee a return trip to state.
"This team hasn't been as focused as some of the teams we've had in the past," Todd admitted, "but all of a sudden they're waking up."
Scouting the course
Todd likes his team's chances on the 6,000-yard Gray Course, which he compared to Avalon South, the Eagles' home course, and Mill Creek.
"This course sets up for our kids because it's not real long and the greens aren't as hard to putt and play on like at Seven Hills or Sugar Bush [sectional site in Garrettsville]," Todd said.
Moro still remembers the feeling he had in 2002 as a sophomore on the state runner-up team, feeding off the high level of competition as the fifth man.
"You play better when you're around that type of competition," Moro said. "All the schools are playing for the same things."
Which is exactly why Moro wanted the entire team in Columbus -- to experience firsthand the feeling of a state tournament and rise together to the occasion.
"I tried my best to step it up because I knew how important it was," Moro recalled of 2002. "I have a feeling that will happen to us this week."