By Greg Gulas
Jake Sylak and Leah Benson continued their winning ways in a Greatest Golfer of the Valley Juniors tournament Tuesday.
Each posted the top score in their respective 17-U divisions in the sixth and final qualifying event of the season at Avalon Lakes Golf Course.
Sylak (36-37) won his fourth event by posting 73, five shots better than Nate Cene (41-37) who earned the automatic bid after shooting 78. Michael Porter (40-39), who qualified during play at Mill Creek’s North course, finished third with 79 while Poland’s Luke Nord (43-37), a two-time 14-U qualifier, placed fourth after posting 80.
Benson (39-42) posted her third win aftershooting an 81, eight strokes ahead of Sierra Richard (45-44). Richard previously qualified, also during play at Mill Creek’s North course. Tuesday’s automatic bid went to Kyra Woods (46-43), who tied Richard for runner-up with an 89.
Caleb Domitrovich won his second 14-U boys event with an 84, eight strokes better than qualifiers Bryce Daggett and Rocco Turner who were tied for second four strokes off the pace.
Landen Cameron, who qualified at Tam O’Shanter last Thursday, finished fourth with a 92 while Landon Wilson of Alliance Country Club punched his championship ticket by carding 93, nine strokes behind Domitrovich.
In girls 14-U action, Madison Murphy — who previously qualified at Reserve Run — fashioned an 82 for top honors. She was 17 strokes ahead of runner-up and finals qualifier Luciana Masters, who shot 99.
A junior at Mineral Ridge High School, Sylak is competing in his fourth GGOV event and is a past 14-U champion, having won the title in 2016.
“I’m playing the best golf of my career right now and I attribute that to the work that I have been putting in,” Sylak said. “I’ve worked hard on every part of my game, trying to break down every part of my round. I look at what I’ve done wrong, scrutinize what I have done right then look at what needs improving.
“I missed half a dozen putts today for birdie and that is something that I will work on between now and Friday, simply because these greens are hard, fast and break all over the place. If I putt better and start fast, then I feel like I can be right there this weekend.”
Cene, a junior at Austintown Fitch this fall, posted 37 on the back nine. That even surprised him.
“I usually don’t do well on the back nine, but I had two birdies there and four overall which really helped,” he said. “I’m driving the ball well right now, my irons are decent, but I struggled with my putting, an area that I need to work on before the start of the championship on Friday.”
A three-time championship qualifier, Porter finished third overall and a stroke behind Cene.
“The course was in great shape and very challenging. You can still score well though if you play your game,” said Porter, a sophomore at McDonald High School. “My irons worked for me today, I had some excellent second shots, but I’ll need to stay away from double bogeys if I expect to contend this weekend.”
Nord, a junior, fashioned a 37 on the back nine after posting 43 on the front.
“I struggled on the front because I got ahead of myself and didn’t think shot-by-shot,” he said. “When I made the turn, I was able to refocus and took it shot-by-shot.
“An eagle on the 14th hole kind of kick-started my finish. I’m just glad to be a finalist because that was my goal from the very beginning.”
Benson is a two-time 14-U champion (2017, ’18), who is looking for her first 17-U title.
“My approach shots were great, but I struggled putting on the back nine,” said the Hickory High School junior. “Even though I’ve already qualified., I used today as a practice round for the finals. Overall, I was pleased with my round and I’ll take that as I look forward to this weekend.”
Richard, a senior at Blackhawk High School, was playing Avalon Lakes for the first time.
“There was a lot of water on the course. I’m not used to that, so it was good to get in a practice round before the weekend,” Richard said. “Nothing was working for me today, so I’ll need to work on all areas of my game before everything begins on Friday.”
Woods will be a senior this fall at Hickory High School.
“I had a tough front nine because my drives were a challenge,” Woods said. “On the back nine I was hitting much better and my approach shots were decent.”
Murphy (40-42) is a freshman at Canfield High School.
“I used today as a warm-up for Saturday,” she said. “I started slow but came back with five consecutive pars on the front nine. It was a mix of everything working for me today. Just being able to execute was the key to my round.”
Matt Matasy is in his first year as head golf professional at Avalon Lakes.
“This is one of our bigger junior events and the only local one, so we are pleased to once again be hosting this year’s Greatest Golfer Juniors qualifier and championship events,” Matasy said. “It’s nice to have the players playing on a championship course.”
The 17-U championship begins Friday at 1 p.m. at Avalon at Squaw Creek with the 17-U and 14-U set for Saturday at noon at Avalon Lakes.