By BRIAN JENNINGS
Spring is finally here, so it’s time to dust off the clubs and spikes. It’s time to start thinking about playing it safe or going for it all. It’s time to forget all the bad shots and mental habits, and focus on the flashes of brilliance from a season ago. It’s time to start getting the tempo down and muscle memory flowing. It’s time to tee it up on the first hole.
The Southington Blue Knights golf team finished the regular season with a 10-5-2 record (8-4-2), ranked fifth in the CCC West. From there, the Knights shot a team score of 316 at the Division I State Championship, tying Newington for fourth place and finishing behind Ridgefield (310), Greenwich (307), and Glastonbury (303).
Jim DiNello enters in his seventh year as the head coach and said he was tremendously happy with the way the season went and the improvement that his Knights made.
“It was a great year,” said DiNello. “We got beat by some obviously, really great teams in the state championship, but we were in the final foursome. It was a great learning experience for the kids to be able to play in the last foursome. That was a culmination of a lot of hard work and some really good golf. Fortunately for us, things remained the way they’ve been for the last six years. We just kept getting better. By the time it was all said and done last year, we were playing really good golf.”
Although they are losing their top two golfers to graduation, Eric Flood and David Valentukonis, the Knights still look promising and prove so with the return of three starters.
Junior Andrew Szandrocha led the Knights with a 4-over 75 at the state championship, tying for 10th place out of 107 golfers. Szandrocha returns as an all-conference player.
Junior Jacob D’Alessandro also returns as an all-conference player and a top four golfer on last year’s team. Junior Ryan Burrill was also in the starting five last year, and both scored at last year’s championship meet.
Finding a way to replace Flood and Valentukonis, as well as Thomas Fisher and Joseph Fazzino, will be key to the upcoming season for the Knights. Fisher and Fazzino may not have started at the state championship, but were frequently plugged into the lineup, providing the Knights with stability and adding depth to the roster.
“We have three guys coming back that were part of states last year,” said DiNello. “Andrew has been terrific in the postseason since he was freshman and as a junior. We expect that to continue. The issue is going to be those three guys playing great golf, but we have to find two guys that are going to consistently put up low numbers in the four and five spots and even challenge those top three guys for their spots.”
DiNello said the team’s depth really stands out as a strength, with early indications showing that the Knights have eight or nine golfers that could break into the top five. Having depth on the roster is great, but DiNello said that inexperience will come with those new golfers, if they manage to make the starting lineup.
The Knights return a number of experienced players from the junior varsity lineup, including seniors Cameron Babin, Cameron Chubet, David Harrison, Harrison Garrett, Julian Cardoza, Katie Martocchio, Mitchell Baker, and Shannon McDonald, and juniors Stephen Salmon, and Andrew Rogalski. Sophomores Dylan Breutzmann, Caroline Kemnitz, John Mindek, and Nathan L’Heureux are up and coming as well as promising to the growth of the program.
“Those guys are going to have to grow up in a hurry,” the Southington coach said. “We don’t have a lot of upperclassmen on the team, so there’s a lot of time. The flipside is that the state championship for Class I is at Timberlin this year. If we’re fortunate to be in the field of 20, we have an opportunity because of proximity to get out and see the course quite often.”
DiNello said that having his young golfers understand course management will help his Knights perform to the best of their abilities as the season goes along.
“Their demeanors are great. They’re very neutral and down the middle, and never seem to get too high. I always tell the guys when I see you walking up the fairway, off the green, or to the tee, I don’t want to be able to tell whether you’re four under or five over. The demeanor in how you handle the game is important. You have to be able to put bad shots behind you and not get too excited when you do something great. A round can change in a heartbeat, but they’re very even-keeled and level-headed.”
DiNello said that the goals of the team never change and competing for the conference and division championships are on the Knights’ list every year.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.
CORRECTION (April 24th edition)
In last week’s golf preview, three Lady Knights were listed among a number of junior varsity golfers that are vying for a spot in the boys varsity lineup, and that was incorrect.
For years, supporters of the Southington High School golf team have been trying to create a girls varsity program. Last year, a number of girls formed a club, which is the first step toward achieving the goal of a varsity team.
Katie Martocchio, Shannon McDonald, and Caroline Kemnitz are among a short list of pioneers, continuing that movement. They could be eligible to qualify for the Connecticut girls golf tournament, but the Lady Knight threesome will not be competing for spots on the boys varsity team.