By MIKE KESSINGER

mkessinger@gctelegram.com

When he's not playing at the top of his game, Alex Zuzelski runs through the songs from his iPod in his head.

It keeps him relaxed and refocused. As he began his round at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course on Friday in the Hi-Plains League golf tournament, the Syracuse senior needed all the help he could get. It wasn't so much his score was high during the opening holes, but his swing was off and he knew it.

The more he kept the music in his thoughts, the more it kept him in tune with the ultimate goal of winning. When it was over, Zuzelski had overcome any trouble he had early and walked away as the top medalist with a 77, one stroke ahead of Hugoton's Zach Dunlap. The rest of the Syracuse team followed Zuzelski's lead by winning the HPL team title with a 339. The Bulldogs held off Southwestern Heights, who finished with a 345, and defending league champ Lakin, who shot a 350.

"(My swing) wasn't really coming into place very well," Zuzelski said. "I was just scrapping my way through it and just tried to get it on the green and two-putt it. Get it in the hole as fast as I could."

Zuzelski was the lone individual to shoot under 40 on both the front and back nine. He started with a 39 on the first nine holes, then finished with a 38.

"He literally struggled with his swing today," Syracuse coach Rick Mathias said of Zuzelski. "He struggled to get the feel of the greens."

By the end though, Zuzelski's struggles still weren't enough to prevent him from winning.

For the rest of the Bulldogs it was just a matter of following the leader. With a fifth, ninth and 15th individual placing, Syracuse received the necessary help. Alex Zuzelski's twin Adam, had his struggles, as well, Mathias said, but his 84 total, placing him fifth, was just two strokes back of Lakin's Chris Ramos, who finished third.

"We felt like we had a good chance," Mathias said of his team coming into the league invitational. "We really thought it was going to be between Southwestern Heights, Lakin and us. We thought it was really going to be a dog fight. Our kids were really prepared, they were focused before the tournament started. That was the goal and that's the first of three."

The Bulldogs next goal will be set for Monday's Class 2A regional at Mariah Hills in Dodge City. Syracuse won the regional last year, then placed fifth at state in Salina. Helping the team's tournament low was Jace Coleman, who shot an 87 (ninth place) and Cory Schmidt's 91 (15th).

The tournament finished with rain falling on the final four groups that came in as everyone had played under cloudy skies in the afternoon. For the Zuzelski brothers, Dunlap and Ramos, all placers a year ago, the HPL tournament was their final round in the event.

"It's always good competition," Zuzelski said of playing against the league foes. "We always want to see who is better."

HPL tournament results are on Page D2.