Four years have passed since the Desert Vista boys golf program last won the Division I title.
In 2016, the team was led by a talented group of seniors, mixed with underclassmen plus talent exceeding their ages. The four freshman on the 2016 Thunder golf team, are now seniors and ready to reclaim their crown.
“We have some guys that are determined and ready to play some good golf,” said Matt Russo, Desert Vista’s boys golf coach. “I think we can do better than what we have so far this season. It’s nice to have that core group of seniors and also the younger players that are playing some good golf.”
Russo has coached the Desert Vista golf program for eight years. He spent his first three seasons leading the girls’ program before becoming coach of the boy’. He led the turnaround in 2016, the year the Thunder won the championship.
He sees some similarities between that team and this year. For one, they’re led by a group of hungry seniors, who want to reclaim the title before their high school golf careers come to an end. It also helps having a group of talented players behind the four seniors. Russo believes any of the players on his team could be the in the first group at any other school in the state.
Lastly, his team is hungry for the title. They recognize they have the ability to once again hoist the trophy, and the senior leaders are doing what it takes to keep everyone focused on doing that come November.
“Every season we have people that are able to mentor the sophomores and the freshman,” Russo said. “They’ve always kind of passed the torch. We have always had that type of transition of leadership and trying to empower the guys to lead the team.”
A key contributor for the Desert Vista program the last four years has been Scott Schlader. A senior this year, Schlader is one of the top golfers in the state, and at one point this season has a 9-hole scoring average of -1.719 strokes under par.
He was invited to compete in the PGA Champions Tour at Pebble Beach in September, which pairs a prep golfer to a professional for a 54-hole tournament at one of the premier courses in the country.
The tournament aired on live television, which allowed the Thunder to watch Schlader in action on their way to a tournament. Schlader ultimately finished tied for 35th with Ken Tanigawa.
“It was a really cool experience to be inside the ropes and play with the professionals,” Schlader said. “Just seeing how they go about things in a professional manner, there’s a lot of positives to take away and a lot I learned that I can use going forward.”
Schlader has become a leader of the Desert Vista golf program throughout his prep career. He and the other three seniors are always looking at ways to help the underclassmen improve.
It’s common to see them engage in conversation with other players at the Club West driving range before practice, giving pointers or just catching up with one another.
Russo believes it’s the comradery between all the players that have led them to success in recent years.
“We have a really good dynamic on the team,” Russo said. “It’s outstanding how some of these guys get along. They coach each other.”
Carter Lolli, a sophomore golfer at Desert Vista, has been one of the main beneficiaries of the senior class’s willingness to help teach players. But his own success before entering the program has also helped.
Lolli began golfing at a young age and quickly rose in the rankings as one of the best in his age group. His performance on the course helped him earn the Freshman Scholar-Athlete of the Year award from Desert Vista.
“I was nervous at first because it was the first time I had really ever been recognized for something like that,” Lolli said. “But I knew at the time how important it was. A lot of people think that in order to win an award you have to be in some really well-known sport.
“But to say I play golf and win that award is really cool to let people know we are here too.”
So far this season, Lolli has picked up where he left off as a freshman. He’s currently ranked among the top 20 golfers in Division I and has helped Desert Vista rise in the rankings to No. 5 overall.
Already one of the team’s best golfers, he realizes he will be looked upon by Russo and the rest of the team to take over a leadership role when the 2020 class graduates. But it’s a task he is willing to face.
“Just following in their footsteps I’ve seen how they act and how they are with everyone else on the team,” Lolli said. “I’ve really taken a lot from that. When they’re gone, I hope to act like them because that’s what has been helping me throughout the season.”
Every member of the Desert Vista program recognizes the amount of talent they have this season. They’re a confident bunch that truly believes they can compete with any team in the state.
They have one more event before state on Nov. 4-5 in Tucson. Russo realizes it won’t be easy to capture the title, but he is hoping that his team puts themselves in position to make a run in the back 9.
“I think every year you come in and there are a handful of teams that really have a shot and I just hope we put our self in position with nine holes to go,” Russo said. “That’s all that matters.”