The First Academy’s boys golf team made history as it won a state title; the girls team finished as runner-up.
When Richard Combs looked at the final standings of the Class 1A State Finals at Mission Inn-Las Colinas last Saturday, Nov. 2, he saw something that had been in the works for what felt like an eternity.
There sitting at No. 1 overall was his TFA Royals boys golf team — who, for the first time in school history, could proclaim themselves state champions.
“It’s been 11 years I’ve been doing this, and it’s kind of like we’ve had a lot of singles (titles) and last year we finished second as a team,” Coach Combs said. “But it’s a dream come true for me, so it’s kind of exciting to see everything come together at the right time to be successful.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “And obviously it feels good as a coach and it feels good for the boys, because they worked hard during the year and kept it together and didn’t let it get away from them yesterday.”
After what had been a tough start early on in the year, the Royals picked up steam as they rolled through districts and picked up their first-ever first-place finish in regional play.
Going into the state tournament, the Royals were playing the best golf they had played all season, and it showed in the first day as they finished with a team total of 297 — the only team to shoot under 300. A clutch 305 on Day Two would seal up the win, as the Royals finished 12 strokes better than second-place Benjamin.
Leading the way for the Royals was Sampson Zheng, whose solid two-day total of 143 (72, 71) put him in second-place overall, while Bruce Huang (70, 78; 148) and Guoao “Leo” Xu (76, 75; 151) were good enough for eighth and 11th place, respectively.
After years of being on the cusp of greatness, the Royals finally won that state title for Combs, but what made this year different than the previous? For Combs, it’s simple.
“I think it was probably — more than anything — determination and focus on knowing what we had to accomplish, and to (play) together,” Combs said. “Our motto this year was ‘Stronger together,’ so we tried to play off of that in terms of, ‘Hey, this isn’t an individual sport — it’s a team sport and everybody has the potential for their score to count.’”
TFA GIRLS FINISH IN SECOND
In the world of Florida high school golf, few rivalries are bigger than TFA and Lake Mary Prep.
Each year, the two schools tend to be at the top of the girls golf rankings, and every year it comes down to the Royals and Griffins at the Class 1A tournament.
This year would be no different, as Lake Mary Prep shot a team score of 575 and edged TFA by seven strokes to claim their first state title since 2016 — stopping the Royals’ state-title streak at two in a row.
Going into states, the Royals had already faced off against Lake Mary Prep on three separate occasions.
During the regular season TFA lost the first match by two strokes before later defeating the Griffins by four strokes. Then, after destroying the competition in the district tournament — which TFA won by 41 strokes — the Royals got the upper hand over Lake Mary Prep by beating the Griffins by four strokes to win the regional.
“I knew they had a really good team when Karoline Tuttle came over from Lake Mary High School,” Royals head coach Chris Bateman said. “We were obviously one of the better teams we’ve had — maybe even the best as far as depth wise is concerned — so I knew we were going to have a shootout.”
And the two-day tournament would be an absolute shootout, as TFA and Lake Mary Prep finished Day One tied at the top of the leaderboard at one under.
Day Two would prove to be the big difference in the tournament at the Griffins stayed hot — shooting just one stroke over the previous day’s number — while the Royals were dealing with some challenges.
“We played solid golf for the first day … and then as we went into the second round I had a couple of girls who were a little under the weather and I was concerned about their stamina,” Bateman said.
Despite the tough Day Two to close out the tournament, the Royals still got big finishes. Jieming “Cissy” Yang finished first overall after shooting a 136 (68, 68), while teammates Ariel Yu (15th; 71, 75; 146), Bridget Ma (T-18th; 74, 76; 150) and Taylor Zeng (T-18th; 74, 76; 150) all finished in the top 20. Yang’s first-place finish was the fourth time in the last five years that a TFA golfer has finished No.1 overall.
“It’s really fun thinking back on the last five years ago — all the things that have happened and all the titles that both schools have won,” Bateman said. “I am so proud of my seniors this year.”