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Rolling Along

Here's a horrifying thought for Class 3A/2A/1A boys golf teams intent on dethroning two-time state champion St. Mary's.

"We're definitely stronger," says Crusaders coach Ryan Allred. "We're deeper and stronger than we've been the past two seasons. We're looking forward to shooting some good scores."

This about a team that won state by 26 strokes last spring.

But it makes sense. All of the scoring players from 2012 return, and a pair of talented freshmen, Jeremy and Joshua Wu — twin brothers of team leader Dylan — have joined the mix.

Allred won't prematurely "count his chickens," he says, of extending the title streak, but defending the championship is among the Crusaders' goals.

Given recent success and the squad's makeup, St. Mary's could conceivably challenge the all-classification record of four straight state titles. Medford High won four big-school championships from 1979-82, and Taft High did so among smaller schools from 1984-87.

In recent years, Westside Christian (2006-08) and Tualatin (2002-04) each captured three in row.

Westside, also a 3A/2A/1A school, placed third last year, 30 shots behind St. Mary's and four behind runner-up Catlin Gabel — the champion in 2009 and '10.

"Some of the best competition in the state is at the 3A level," says Allred.

And some of the best individual competition on one team can be found at Crusader practices, with six players vying for five spots available in standard tournaments. Of the five players' scores, four count in team scoring.

Joining the Wu triumvirate are holdovers Will Street, the lone senior, junior Tom Thorndike and sophomore Brandon Chun.

Another member of last year's team, Mark Lynn, transferred to North Medford and, as a junior, is in the Black Tornado's rotation.

Chun echoes his coach, saying St. Mary's is improved.

"All six of us can shoot in the 70s," he says, "and we can have a couple players that can go under par, probably. So it's another strong year. I'm hopeful that we can bring home another title, but you never know. Anything can happen."

To wit, Dylan Wu, a junior, routinely shot below par last season, turning in a couple 66s late in the season. He was state runner-up last year and placed fifth as a freshman.

Thorndike fashioned his best round, an even-par 72, in helping the Crusaders to a head-turning 294 score early in 2012.

Street was, and remains, the team's No. 2 player, and Chun recorded a 76 at state last May for one of the better final rounds in the field.

Throw in the Wu twins, who have enjoyed much success in the junior ranks, and the immediate and long-range future looks bright.

All of the Wus played hockey for North Medford, cutting into some of their winter practice time.

The youngest Wus "are really working hard on their games," says Allred. "They're at the course every day and have just beautiful swings. I can see them being very good by the end of the season."

The biggest uncertainty each week is which players will be chosen for tournament play.

For Allred, it's akin to a football coach who has two starting quarterbacks. He can't go wrong with either in the lineup.

Unlike a football coach, who might make his decision based on a gut feeling, Allred employs a numbers-based qualifying system that determines the five "starters" each week.

The top two players from the previous competition are exempt from qualifying for the next event, and that usually will be Dylan Wu and Street.

For the other three spots, Allred takes the scoring averages from the previous tournament, plus two nine-hole practice rounds during the week.

"That's the beauty of golf," says Allred. "It's just about playing, then we go off the scores. There aren't too many hard feelings. The guys are playing themselves. If one shoots 85 in a qualifying round and another shoots 79, it's easy to say this guy is in. It's easier to make that decision."

For instance, Chun will be the odd man out when the Crusaders play in a tournament at Bandon Trails on Monday.

The upside — and it'll be this way for several other tournaments, including district and state — the No. 6 player will serve as an alternate and will play a practice round.

The week-to-week regimen is quite a departure from 2012.

"Compared to last year, it's a lot harder," says Chun. "Last year, we took practice seriously, but we always knew we were playing and we didn't really have the pressure of this year. You can mess up on one hole and someone shoots even and you're not playing."

It's not a divisive element, he adds.

"We just practice and have fun," says Chun. "Whoever's playing, plays. We're all good friends and we all have a good support system."

Another of the team goals, along with defending their state title, is bettering the 294 the Crusaders shot last year.

St. Mary's has played only two tournaments. Traditional scoring was used in only one of them, the Cascade Christian Invitational two weeks ago, and the Crusaders, playing without Street, shot 313 to win by 26 strokes.

"As the season progresses and the guys are really hitting their stride, they'll be really tough," says Allred.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

St.Mary's golfers, from left, Dylan Wu, Tom Thorndike, Will Street and Brandon Chun return from the 2012 state championship team. They're shown here shortly after shooting a 294 team score last season. - MT file photo