Setting school records during the regular season with just one loss and making some noise in the postseason certainly gave the Blue Knight golf team a season to remember last year. But it wasn’t made possible without the help of four, solid starters.
However, those four starters have since graduated, and Southington coach Jim DiNello and his returning Knights are coming into this season as true underdogs.
Coming into this season, the Knights will be returning maturity to their starting lineup, but not necessarily experience. Of the experienced returners, nobody played higher than the fifth spot in last year’s varsity lineup… if they played at all.
“If you’re sitting in the five spot behind those guys, you’re going out to do the best that you can,” said DiNello. “You don’t know if you’re score is going to be needed that day with the guys that are playing in the one through four spots. More often than not, it wasn’t.”
Through all of the inexperience, the Knights still took quite a bit from last season’s experience. Being around golfers that knew how to win and play the game well definitely has its benefits.
“We do have plenty of young golfers that now know what it takes to be champions,” said DiNello. “My hope is that they understand the work that is required to be the best because we will be extremely inexperienced this season.”
The Knights should be hungry coming into this season after the past few seasons built on the trend of not just qualifying for states, but entering the tournament as a high seed. The keys to being competitive again this season will rely on the development of the team’s young golfers and the ability of inexperienced players to handle the pressure of playing against some of the top teams in the state on a regular basis.
“We’re going to really have to grind early, in order to be competitive,” said DiNello. “The guys are going to have to get used to playing against really good golfers, relaxing, and handling the role of having your score count all the time at the varsity level. Making states this year would be a tremendous accomplishment.”
It won’t be an easy task by any means being in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, divisions in the conference in the CCC Central Blue, which features teams like Conard, Glastonbury, Hall, and Simsbury. But it will benefit the team. When the postseason comes, Southington will be battle-tested.
“You get better when you play with really good players,” said DiNello. “Day in and day out with our schedule, our guys are going to be playing really good players all the time. That’s going to help them gain some really great experience in the long run.”
The Knights finished last year’s regular season at 14-1-1 overall (8-0 home, 6-1-1 away) and won the CCC Central Blue title with a regional record of 10-1-1 and a divisional record of 6-1-1.
In the postseason, the Southington placed third out of 29 teams at the CCC championship at Stanley Course in New Britain behind Simsbury and Avon. The Knights then closed out their season by tying for 12th out of 20 teams at the Division I championship at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron. Simsbury prevailed over Xavier in a playoff after 18 holes to claim their 10th CIAC Division I title (11th overall).
Southington lost their four top players to graduation. Ryan Burrill and Andrew Szandrocha flipped back and forth at the top spot. Jacob D’Alessandro and Andrew Rogalski were usually in the second foursome. All four finished last year with a handicap differential of five or lower.
Burrill lifted the Knights to a divisional title after pacing the team with a 32 (4-under-par) against Hall at Rockledge Golf Club in West Hartford in the regular season finale. Burrill’s 32 was an all-time Southington High School record.
Burrill carried that momentum into the postseason by shooting the team’s second-best score at the conference championship. While battling flu-like symptoms as he trekked across the fairways of Tallwood at the state championship, Burrill led the Knights yet again, tying for 20th with a 76 (4-over-par) out of 105 golfers. The effort earned him all-state honors.
Szandrocha flip-flopped with Burrill at the No. 1 and 2 spot throughout last season and led the Knights at the conference championship by tying for third with a 71. Szandrocha earned all-conference honors with Burrill and went on to continue his golfing career at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
Team leaders returning to this year’s squad include seniors Nathan L’Heureux and Michael Zera, and juniors Christopher McManus and Cameron Zegzdryn. L’Heureux and Zegzdryn battled for the fifth (last) spot on the starting varsity lineup of last year’s team, but L’Heureux came out on top down the final stretch of the season.
L’Heureux didn’t score the Knights at the conference championship, but he did at Tallwood. On the biggest stage of the season, he tied for 45th with a 79 (seven-over-par), which was the team’s second-best score.
Team captains are to be named at a later time. Southington added Berlin to this year’s schedule. DiNello is entering his 11th year as head coach of the program and currently holds an overall coaching record of 99-57-6.
For weekly box scores and daily results, visit us throughout the week at www.SouthingtonObserver.com. Search “scoreboard.”