The learning experience that the Manchester Essex golf team worked through during the first half of the year finally paid off last week.
After opening the season 0-5, the Hornets picked up their first win of the season against Lynnfield, 104-98, at their home course of Essex County Club on Sept. 23. The encouraging win gave both coach and golfers hope that better days could be ahead for this young team during the second leg of the fall season.
“The team is slowly, gradually getting there,” explains Manchester Essex golf coach Hollis French. “We had our first win versus Lynnfield in Essex, and it was real close. Almost everybody had their best round of the year. It was good to see the kids get a win under their belts after five in a row hadn’t gone their way.”
That being said, the rest of the season won’t exactly be a cakewalk. Only one of the final six matches will be played on the Hornets’ home course at Essex County Club – with home-course advantage being seen as crucial in the sport – and the competition doesn’t get any easier.
“One of the tough things about high school golf is you play half of your matches at home, and you know that course, and half are away, and we have, unfortunately, played a lot of our home matches so far,” says French. “We have Hamilton-Wenham this week [September 28] at Myopia, which is always tough. The last home game of the year is Georgetown on Thursday in Essex. The rest of them are away.”
The good news?
“We are certainly improving,” says French. “We’re working hard and having a good time, and that’s the most important thing.”
During these last six matches, French will be looking to see improvement across the board from what is a young group still learning how to play the sport as a team, with only four players returning from last year’s team to help create a roster of 10 in 2021.
The Hornets’ team captain and number one golfer is Sam Athanas, a junior.
“He’s really one of the top players in the entire league,” says French. “He’s played really well in all of our matches, is always the top scorer for our team and quite regularly the top point-getter for either team. He’s been a standout.”
Seniors Benji DiFluri and Jacob Brown have also done a good job putting points on the board and providing leadership for what is otherwise an inexperienced squad.
“Those are the senior leaders,” explains French. “They’re really important for the younger kids, helping them to understand the process. It’s fun to see the older kids and younger kids interact.”
Other key returnees include sophomore Lily Brigham and junior Mark Pollock, who didn’t see a lot of time in 2020 but have been important contributors this season.
“He and Lily were on the team last year, but didn’t play in a lot of matches,” says French. “They’ve played in every match this year and improved throughout the year.”
Of the six golfers new to the team, two are freshmen, two are eighth graders and one is a seventh grader – the middle-schoolers were granted a waiver to play for the varsity squad due to a relatively small turnout for the team this season. To this point, seventh-grader Keegan Brooks has shown plenty of promise despite his relative youth, as have two eighth-graders Jack McCavanagh and Gray West.
“All three of those younger players have played in all or most of our matches and improved a lot,” explains French. “They’re playing against kids who are four, five, six years older than them and holding their own. They’ve got a lot of potential.”
While this team isn’t quite as experienced as last year’s group, the playing conditions are a marked improvement after COVID guidelines placed a lot of restrictions on all fall sports, including golf, in fall of 2020.
“The only thing we don’t do that we did before is shake hands at the end of the match with the other team,” says French. “Last year, the whole thing was we had to play most of our schedule in one month, and there was no postseason. This year, there will be the annual league and state tournament. It would be a long shot for us to qualify at this point, but you never know.”
Whether or not the postseason is in play for Manchester Essex, the Hornets are looking forward to closing out their regular season with the annual tradition of playing against neighbors Ipswich and Rockport in the Old Cape Ann Classic on Oct. 12.
It’s a fun event, and the kids get pretty excited about it,” says French. “It’s a really nice way to finish things off.”