CONYERS - The Rockdale golf squads will have an interesting mix of experienced players and newcomers this spring.
On the girls side, the Lady Bulldogs return three golfers off last year's squad, which just missed a Class AAAA state tournament by finishing third in the Region 8-AAAA tournament.
Meanwhile, the Rockdale boys also return three experienced golfers off last year's team, looking to improve on their 10th place finish in last season's region tournament.
It's no secret that the Rockdale girls will be one of the top contenders in 8-AAAA.
Kayla Kelly, who was the Citizen's Girls Golfer of the Year in 2006 and 2007, is back for her senior year. Senior Alex Madsen also is back for the Lady Bulldogs. Both Kelly and Madsen have state tournament experience. Sophomore Zada Eshun returns for her second season.
Rockdale girls golf coach Frank Cassino also is interested to see how newcomer Lisa Thomas progresses during the season.
"We finished third in the region tournament last season, and, with the team staying intact, I believe we can make a run at a state tournament berth," Cassino said. "This is Kayla Kelly's fourth year and Alex Madsen's third year. Both of these girls have been to the state tournament. They know what it takes to get there, and I think missing the state tournament last year made them more determined to go out and practice and improve their skills."
As the Lady Bulldogs prepare to launch their season Monday against Eastside at Cherokee Run, Cassino is concerned his squad may get off to a slow start.
"I think we will be a little rusty at the beginning of the season. We have been limited a bit by course availability and weather," he said. "Hopefully, we will be mentally prepared to play. We will find out a lot about this year's team ... when we play Eastside on Monday and Tuesday. The matches will be at Cherokee Run and Indian Creek. These courses will provide great challenges because they are both very difficult. The girls will be tested right away."
On the boys side, new coach David Phenix will be counting on his returning experienced trio of Josh Lambo, Kyle Estes and Tony Discordia. Phenix is anticipating good things from newcomer Aaron Conyers and is looking for solid contributions from newcomers Chris Montalvo, Jonathan Gissentaner and Adam Nation.
"It's a little hard to predict how we will do this season because we have had limited practices due to weather and course availability over the past month," Phenix said. "I do feel like we will be stronger than we were last year because of our talent and the experience of our returners.
"I do feel like we have a strong top two or three that should be able to compete with anyone on our schedule. We have experienced upperclassmen such as Lambo and Discordia, who are both seniors, and Estes, who is a junior, that can provide leadership as well as have the attitude and the mental make-up to be successful on the golf course. Hopefully, this will rub off on our younger guys."
But the key for the Bulldogs this season will likely be the lower spots on the team.
"We really need our fourth, fifth and sixth spots to step and contribute," Phenix said. "I believe that we have the potential talent to fill these spots. Based on what I have seen, it's these spots that may ultimately dictate how well we do this year."
The Rockdale boys also launch their season Monday against Eastside at Cherokee Run.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Teams: Rockdale boys and girls golf
Coaches: David Phenix (boys), Frank Cassino (girls)
Last year: Boys finished 10th in Region 8-AAAA tournament; girls placed third in region tournament.
First match: Monday vs. Eastside at Cherokee Run