Title defense won't be easy for Forsyth at Palmetto

Ben Schlottman, a senior at Forsyth Country Day School and an Auburn signee

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OCEAN ISLAND BEACH, N.C. –– It's not easy to defend.

Forsyth Country Day School from Lewisville, N.C., found that out Thursday at the Palmetto High School Championship.

The Furies, winner of last year's tournament by two shots, recorded a 16-over 304 in the qualifying round at Ocean Ridge Plantation's Lion's Paw course. They finished the day tied for third with Bishop Gorman, 10 shots behind Charlotte (N.C.) Christian, which will be the top seed in the 36-hole championship flight after a 6-over 294 on the Panther's Run course.

"Last year, they were hunting and this year they're the hunted," said Forsyth coach Joe Dillon. "Everybody is shooting for them and everybody knows who they are."

The top 20 teams in the 39-team field from Thursday qualify for the championship flight while the remaining teams will compete in a secondary flight. Friday's first round will take place at Ocean Ridge Plantation while Saturday's final round will be held on three courses at Sea Trail Golf Resort in Sunset Beach, N.C.

Rain is in the forecast for both days, but Forsyth has already had to weather a few challenges this week. On the first tee, the Furies' No. 5 player, Jay Hunt, hurt his back and had to withdraw. Eric Mitchell, who will play college golf at Princeton in the fall, and Gray Townsend, who had signed with Furman but has since decided he will be a preferred walk-on at SMU, shot 10-over 82 and 7-over 79, respectively.

"It was a weird day," Dillon said.

Luckily for Forsyth, Justin Lang fired a 2-under 70 to tie Edison High's Kevin Steinfeld for the low round of the day, and Ben Schlottman, the tournament's defending medalist and an Auburn signee, chipped in with a 73, although he wasn't too pleased with the performance.

"It's hard to have low expectations (for yourself) around a course that you know you can score on," Schlottman said.

Despite a less-than-ideal qualifying round, the Furies remain confident. They won the NCISAA 3-A Championship last spring and returned their top six players – all seniors – this season.

And while Dillon replaced last year's state championship-winning coach Dennis Ring, who retired before this season, Dillon isn't a stranger to success – he led the Furies to the 2001 state championship in his first stint as Forsyth's head coach before stepping down to take care of his parents.

"They are all very dedicated, talented, smart and hard-working," Dillon said. "Our top six guys have been together for five or six years, so they've been pushing each other for a long time. It's easy for me. I just make sure they get here safely and show up to the first tee on time."

Charlotte Christian may have had the best qualifying round, fueled by David Kocher's 1-under 71, but Dillon's squad is determined to repeat as champions, a feat that would give the Furies more confidence entering next month's state tournament.

"This is a nice barometer to have at this point in the season," Dillon said. "We've got a month to go, and I'd rather them peak a month from now, that's why I'm not upset with people playing badly right now."

Said Schlottman: "It's great practice. Anytime you can get on some good courses against a good field, it's going to help you. We're really happy to be back here and we hope to repeat."

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