Growing his game

Kentridge boys golf coach Mark Champoux saw it coming. Inch by inch. Pound by pound. Yard by yard.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, September 16, 2008 1:22pm
  • Sports
Sean McMullen lines for a birdie putt during a Sept. 9 match against played Kentlake at Fairwood Golf and Country Club. The Kentridge junior is someone to watch this season.

Sean McMullen lines for a birdie putt during a Sept. 9 match against played Kentlake at Fairwood Golf and Country Club. The Kentridge junior is someone to watch this season.

Kentridge boys golf coach Mark Champoux saw it coming. Inch by inch. Pound by pound. Yard by yard.

When discussing Kentridge golfer Sean McMullen, it was rather hard to miss what was happening during the course of last year.

“I think (Sean) grew about three inches between the fall and the spring,” said Champoux, referring to the golf schedule that is split between the two seasons. “He was pretty small in the fall, then grew quite a bit.”

And the result?

“Just between the start of the season (in the fall) and the state tournament (in the spring), he added 20-30 yards on his drives.”

Truth be told, McMullen, a junior, sprouted from a light-hitting 5-foot-3 to a club-wielding 5-foot-8 between the end of last year’s regular season and the state tournament.

“I made quite a big jump,” said the low-key, right-handed swinging McMullen, who barely cracked 100 pounds as a freshman but now tips the scales at 150. “It definitely changed my game a lot. When you’re able to hit it out there a lot further, you have shorter distances to the green and different clubs to choose.”

Matter of fact, McMullen went from driving the ball roughly 235 yards on a good day to 270. Already solid on the short game, the additional yardage off the tee helped McMullen considerably.

The result, somewhat mirroring his huge growth spurt, showed at last spring’s state tournament, when McMullen tied for sixth place at Avalon Golf Links in Burlington, carding a two-day total 149.

“The growth spurt added another dimension to his game,” Champoux said.

Enough so that McMullen was able to vault from 39th place at state as a freshman to the top 10 last year.

Now 5-foot-10 – yes, seven inches taller than he was a little more than a year ago – McMullen continues to keep things in perspective. Unlike many of his opponents, he isn’t necessarily aiming for a state crown, though he’ll be among the contenders come spring.

“I just want to go out and shoot two good rounds,” he said. “That’s all. That’s my goal.”

RELOADED

It’s hard to imagine the Kentwood boys golf team being even better this season than last.

But the Conks, whom went undefeated in SPSL North play a year ago and took third at state, have the tools to do it again.

Potentially, they could do even more.

It’s all in the numbers, said Kentwood coach Kevin Hagen.

“We lost two good seniors, but we have a lot of depth this year,” Hagen said. “We have two great players ready to step right in there and two or three more knocking at the door.”

Replacing Nick Varelia, who took 11th at state last spring and who now plays at Western Washington, won’t be easy.

But talent for a repeat remains – especially when considering Kentwood’s 1-2 punch of Tom Zavada and Kent Hagen. Both placed at state last spring – Zavada tied for 11th, Hagen was 39th. Both enjoyed solid summers playing in various Washington Junior Golf Association tournaments.

But the Conquerors are far from just a two-player tandem. Also returning from last year’s undefeated team are Tyler Clavin and junior Riley Kuranishi.

As for those guys knocking on the door, look out for senior Aaron Dost, who won medalist honors at last year’s JV tournament while teammate Dominic Denby, a junior, took second.

The talent level and numbers alone make Kentwood a frontrunner to repeat as North Division champions. But is a state team title run in the works as well?

“I think, if we get enough boys to state and then if they play well, we could certainly challenge,” Hagen said. “But it’s going to be a tough road.”

He felt the pinch in his left side.

The result of overswinging with the wrong golf club proved a costly one for Tahoma High junior C.J. Munko. Costly enough, in fact, to force one of the South Puget Sound League’s burgeoning golf stars to the sideline.

But this wasn’t a league match. This was state last spring, a place Munko had aimed for since well before his sophomore season began. A place where Munko felt he belonged, particularly after winning the 14th annual Riverbend Doxson Toyota amateur tournament at Riverbend Golf Course in Kent during the summer of 2007.

That victory had Munko riding a wave of confidence heading into his sophomore season, and he rode it all the way to state.

Then came the par-5 eighth hole at Avalon Golf Links in Burlington. Sitting roughly 155 yards away with the wind at his back, Munko had a difficult shot ahead, but certainly not impossible. Not for a kid who was sitting 1-over-par at the time and was hitting greens with ease.

“I grabbed a club that was less than I needed,” Munko explained. “I went with a 9 and swung hard at it. I thought I had to cream (the ball). It went over the green. But right at impact, I felt a tear.”

Munko, an avid snowboarder with a serious competitive streak, wasn’t about to give in to the pain. He was fine. Or so he kept telling himself as he braved through holes 9, 10, 11 and 12.

“He wasn’t very happy. At hole 12, I told him, ‘C.J., you don’t need to do this,’” Tahoma coach Mike Hanson said. “He did not want to walk off.”

But Munko had no other choice, eventually withdrawing from the tournament on the 14th hole.

“I was pretty upset,” Munko conceded. “Injuries happen sometimes. It’s just embarrassing to get injured during golf.”

Despite the difficult ending to what was a wildly successful sophomore season for Munko, the fact remained that at the end of state, he still had two years ahead of him.

Now a junior, the 16-year-old is among a small handful of elite returners to the SPSL. And with last season’s abrupt finish at the state tournament behind him, Munko eyes the future.

A future that, no doubt, includes another state trip.

“I feel I have a better shot at placing this year,” he said. “I’ve been working out more. It would be really cool to finish in the top 10.”

SPSL NORTH GOLF

AT A GLANCE

• BOYS FAVORITE: Kentwood, Kentridge.

• GIRLS FAVORITES: Kentwood, Kentridge.

• BOYS CONTENDERS: Kentlake, Tahoma.

• GIRLS CONTENDERS: Kentlake, Tahoma.

• OUTLOOK: Every year, the area has proven to be a hotbed when it comes to the local golf scene. This fall and next spring should be no different. Of note, however, is the sheer strength of the junior class for both boys and girls. Kentridge’s Sean McMullen and Tahoma’s C.J. Munko, along with Kentwood’s Thomas Zavada and Kent Hagen, are all juniors who advanced to state last season. Meanwhile, female stars Rui Li of Kentwood and Lauren Sewell of Kentridge, both of whom are among the state’s elite golfers, also are juniors. As far as the races in each gender’s division, it appears to be a fight between Kentwood and Kentridge on both sides. For the boys, the Conquerors will be mighty difficult to knock off with Zavada (11th at state) and Hagen (38th at state) back in the mix. But Kentwood goes more than just two deep, which makes it the favorite. Behind Hagen and Zavada is the return of Tyler Clavin and Riley Kuranishi. Adding to the strength is senior Aaron Dost, who won the JV medalist title a year ago. But Kentridge can’t be overlooked with McMullen, who took sixth at state last spring, and senior Garik Kosai, last year’s No. 3, also returning. The Chargers did graduate Chris Cho, now at the University of Idaho, one of the area’s best for several years. Losing a player of Cho’s status clearly will hurt the Chargers in the team race. And if Kentwood and Kentridge aren’t careful, Tahoma could sneak up and win this division, particularly if Munko continues his ascension. But it’s not all about Munko with the Bears, as they have four other varsity returners: Danny Swinford, Jeremy Johnson, Jonathan Choi and Eric Enders. That depth should help in head-to-head competition. Kentlake remains the sleeper on the boys side. The Falcons don’t yet have any marquee names, but they do return plenty of quality, led by senior Mathieu Dubeau and juniors Karl Dubeau and Nick Lodato. Like Tahoma, the Falcons can boast plenty of depth, going 13 deep on their returning list of players. That should come in handy during league competition. Kentwood’s girls also return plenty of depth, led by Li, who will be among the favorites to win the state title in the spring. Li won’t be alone in Conqueror colors, with Catherine Drake and Alyssa Nagai, among others, ready to make a push. Though Kentwood has the depth, Kentridge likely has the best 1-2-3 punch in the league with Sewell (fifth at state), Krystina Zerr (21st at state) and the return of Leah Hollingsworth. On the fringe likely will be Kentlake and Tahoma. The Falcons return juniors Lindsey Douglas and Kelli Wyatt, which should help them be competitive. However, when it’s all said and done, the girls division likely will be a battle between Kentridge and Kentwood.

• NOTABLE: John Flanigan, Charlie Mitchell and Mark Champoux are taking over coaching duties this year at Kentridge for Todd Nicholson. ... Unlike most sports, the SPSL is divided into three divisions for golf: North, Central and South. The local contingent of Auburn, Kentlake, Kent-Meridian, Kentridge, Kentwood and Tahoma comprise the North. With the recent re-shuffling of the SPSL, Thomas Jefferson and Auburn Riverside — two schools that are in the North in every other sport — wound up in the Central Division. ... The golf season is split in two, beginning in the fall and ending in the spring. The medalist and state qualifying tournaments for both genders will be held Oct. 22-23 at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton. ... Tahoma graduates Mason LeMay, Erik Tronvig and Brett DePasquale are all now playing at Green River Community College.

• CIRCLE THE CALENDAR: Sept. 30, Kentridge at Kentwood (boys and girls) — With three matches remaining on the regular-season schedule, this could very well decide the North champion on both sides. Sept. 30, Tahoma at Kentlake (boys and girls) — Plenty of local talent on hand in this one. Oct. 22-23, medalist and state qualifying tournament, Gold Mountain — The drive to the Bremerton course is worth it to see the SPSL’s best swing it.


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