By Jimmy Allinder
A high school golf match couldn’t be more different than what takes place in a professional tournament.
There are no giant crowds lining fairways and surrounding the greens, and there are certainly no television cameras stationed near holes. For the most part, matches are competitive but tend to be more friendly affairs. That is why Metuchen High School boys’ and girls’ coach Rich Stoner likes to use the word “relaxed” when describing his program.
“Of course, we can be serious when we need to be,” he said. “But generally, we keep it light and fun. Isn’t this supposed to be the best time in the kids’ lives, and what’s better than playing for the school golf team? They get to hang out with friends after school, meet new people and enjoy walking on a beautiful course. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Winning matches doesn’t hurt either, and the Bulldogs have won their share through the years, most recently last season when the boys finished 9-3 and the girls were 6-3.
Metuchen has actually produced some of the top golfers in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) — most recently Peter Kim, who is a 2012 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) champion and is now a senior and captain for the United States Military Academy-West Point golf team. Jeremy Nevius, 2013 GMC Tournament champion, is now a red-shirt junior at Campbell College and is a member of the golf team.
Still, Stoner insists golf should be fun above anything else, and both teams are poised to have enjoyable seasons. The Bulldogs’ boys and girls are both 1-0 and with every starter from last year back, each is poised to compete for the Blue Division title.
For the boys, senior Colin Gaven was +10.4 for nine holes, junior Tom Resko was+11.6, junior Corey Williams was +12.6, junior Spencer Peyrot was +15.8, junior Jack Bradley was +15.5 and sophomore Matt Murphy was +14.3.
The girls are led by seniors Haley Nugent (+10), Siya Zhang (+12), Morgan Switzer (+13), Hannah Small (+16) and juniors Katie Nugent, Nina Chung and Allison Carr, who are all at +14.
John P. Stevens
The John P. Stevens High School boys’ golf team opened the season with a first-place finish in a triangular match with Spotswood High School and Bishop George Ahr High School.
Both are non-Red Division teams and do not represent the challenge the Hawks are likely to face against division opponents.
Coach John Canova only asks his golfers to play within their abilities and let the shots fall where they may.
“We want our golfers to be team players,” Canova said about his team philosophy. “They can only do that by focusing on what they do best. Our goal is to improve throughout the season and compete in every match, especially against division opponents.”
The Hawks were hit hard by graduation with the departure of Rohit Iyer and Dan Defilippo, who were both among the better GMC golfers. The returning lineup includes juniors Justin Liang (+14) and Larry Xing (+14.8) and seniors Tom Hsu (+15.2) and David Szeto (15.6).
Juniors Anish Chouthai (+15.7), Andrew Lui (+17.5) and Kunal Kanwar (+20) also hope to crack the lineup.
Veteran Patty Savulich coaches the girls’ team (0-1), which set a school record last season with 11 wins and finished in a three-way tie with South Brunswick High School and East Brunswick High School for the Red Division title.
With nearly the entire team intact, the Hawks still hope to win the division title outright and qualify some of its golfers for the NJSIAA individual championships (top 50).
Senior Grace Wu and junior Roshi Shenoy are currently state-eligible, and the remaining starters are ranked among the top 75. They include juniors Vritti Vazarini, Karishma Sheny, Mehak Juneja and Vidisha Jha; sophomore Dhavani Kakabalia; and freshmen Kriti Saxena and Rebecca Santos.
“The girls have developed a strong team bond and support each other,” Savulich said in her fifth year. “We lost the opener to Hillsborough [High School] by five strokes, but every golfer finished above their stroke average.”
Savulich has coached other sports, including volleyball, for many years.
“My advice is to represent our high school and yourselves and display good sportsmanship,” she said. “Also, do your best and the rest will fall into place.”
The J.P. Stevens softball team took a major hit with graduation losses, including three of the top four hitters for average, but run production and pitching haven’t been issues in the first three games.
The Hawks (19-5 overall, 10-2 Red Division including the title), scored 33 runs in victories over East Brunswick High School, Woodbridge High School and Colonia High School and yielded one run to Woodbridge.
“We lost a lot of talent,” coach Krystle Petty-Quinn said. “However, we return our starting pitcher [in senior] Ashley Lombardi (0.82 ERA, .323 batting average) and [senior] catcher Brianna Zederbaum and hope to remain one of the top GMC teams.”
J.P. Stevens’ battery may turn out to be the best in the conference, but there’s also experience at other positions, including senior captain and four-year starting shortstop Julie Siecinski, who led with 25 runs batted in, and junior center fielder Amanda Leary.
The remaining starters include juniors Alyssa Mido (first base), Brianna Miller (third base) and Chloe Ling (outfield); sophomore Emily Taveres (pitcher/outfield); and senior Shefali Savabada (utility).
The Hawks have gotten off to the quick start; however, they faced Old Bridge High School April 10 in a key division game. They also play the Knights May 9 and face tough division opponent South Brunswick twice (April 19 and May 3).
J.P. Stevens will also see how it measures up against some of the GMC’s top teams outside the division when it faces Bishop Ahr April 29 and South Plainfield High School May 11.
“We’re looking to improve every day,” Petty-Quinn said. “We consider every practice and game an opportunity to take away things we did well and fix things that may be broken. Potentially, we could be strong when the postseason begins.”