John Guerrero knows through his 18 combined years of coaching golf at Mesa Community College, he has it good.
The Thunderbirds golf coach doesn’t have to go scrounging for good recruits. He has all he needs here in the East Valley. Golf is a year-round sport — for those who don’t mind playing in triple digits — in Arizona the level of play at the junior level is matched by only a few states.
It’s a matter of finding the right fit and it is clear Guerrero has done just that with both his squads this year as MCC qualified for the men’s and women’s National Junior College Athletic Association’s national championships.
“That’s the way it should be with the talent, facilities and great weather we have in Arizona,” Guerrero said. “The talent is always going to be here. I know what high schools to go to in order to get the right players. I am going for players who are good enough to four-year (college) players, but maybe aren’t ready academically or mature enough just yet.”
The women play in Daytona Beach, Fla., May 12-15, while the men play in Plymouth, Ind., May 20-23.
The men’s team features four players from Ahwatukee among its top five as the Thunderbirds look to keep the momentum going after winning its third regional title since 2008.
“Team chemistry is really good and we are ready to go win it,” Mountain Pointe graduate Austin Fletcher, a freshman, said. “When I decided to go there I was looking forward to getting with some of the guys and representing Ahwatukee.”
Sophomores Ben Harden and Justin Hyden are from Mountain Pointe to go along with Fletcher. Desert Vista graduate Ryan Witte is a sophomore as well.
The T-Birds posted a final round of 305 to finish with a 1,178 total, 10 shots better than Glendale CC, which had a 1,188 and 15 over two-time defending national champion South Mountain at 1,193.
Witte claimed second place individually with a final day 76 for a total of 292. He was followed by Fletcher at 295.
Dobson graduate Jacob Montplaisir and Hyden shot a 304 and Potter had a 305, but shot the best round on the final day with a 73.
“We’ve been solid throughout the season,” Guerrero said. “We were ranked No. 2 (in the nation) in the beginning of the year and we’re playing in the strongest region in the nation so we had to play at a high level all year. These guys have been up to the task.”
On the season Fletcher is averaging 72.9, Witte and Hyden are at 74.3, and Potter is at 74.6.
“Austin has always been a top player, getting better every year since playing for Mountain Pointe as a freshman,” Guerrero said. “He can play against anyone and when he is on he is going to be up there with a chance to win it.”
Potter is the wildcard among the group as the region tournament at Gold Canyon showed.
He opened the tournament as the leader with a 67 and finished with a 73, but shot 80 and 85 in between.
“He is the perfect complimentary player,” Guerrero said. “He is going to be solid and he is going to hurt you most of the time, but when he gets it going, he really gets it going and can shoot lights out.”
Hyden is an example of the depth the program has as an opening was created after Ajay Wilson, an All-American last year, didn’t return.
“I told some of the kids that it means there was an opportunity for them to step up,” Guerrero said. “Justin really took it to heart, worked hard, and he is a new player this year.”
Witte followed his brother, Kevin, through DV and MCC to develop his own personality and game.
“He’s had to deal with being the younger brother and that’s not an easy thing to do sometimes, but he has held up his end of the bargain,” Guerrero said. “They are two different kinds of players. Ryan brings a real power game that makes any course short when he is hitting it straight.”
It adds up to the four players having the same Ahwatukee roots, but very different games with one goal on mind.
“We all have different approaches,” Fletcher said. “Ryan hits 320 with a swooping draw, I hit the ball all different shots and rely on my short game, Justin has a solid all-around game, and Ben is one a one-of-a-kind player with his patience and mental approach like Jim Furyk.
“But when we come together as one we are the team to beat, and that’s what we plan on doing at nationals.”
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