It might seem as if the Manchester Essex golf team’s season just started, with the end of the season already looming around the corner.
The Hornets began playing a condensed schedule on Sept. 29 and played nine matches since then, including a 140-114 loss to Triton on Monday. After rain moved Tuesdays’ match with North Reading to Oct. 14, Manchester Essex only has three matches remaining on the schedule before the fall season ends next week against Pentucket.
That’s 13 matches in four weeks, an amazing feat for a sport that usually has to wrap up before there isn’t enough daylight to play near the end of October. The COVID pandemic forced a later-than-usual start for the team and the rest of the Cape Ann League and will prohibit any postseason or all-star meets once the regular season is over. So, that’s it for the Hornets after Pentucket on Oct. 20 – no CAL Meet, no opportunities for the regional or state meets once it’s all done.
“We have had very little time to practice,” explains golf coach Hollis French. “We were allowed to start on the 21st of Sept., we had a week of practice, then we’ve had three or four matches a week with barely any time to practice, help the kids work on the things they need to work on.”
The good news is that this shortened run-up to the season and lack of practice time hasn’t hurt the Hornets all that much so far. Manchester Essex was 6-3 at the start of the week with four matches to go, keeping them in the running to win the CAL Baker Division for the second year in a row - ME was in second in the division with a 4-3 record after the loss to Triton, just behind current division leader Rockport (5-1 in the Baker) and ahead of Hamilton-Wenham (2-3). While 133-130 loss to the Generals in the season opener was a tough one (“It’s like losing by one point in triple overtime in basketball,” French says of the loss to HW), the team still has the opportunity to seize control of the division with a big match against Rockport on Oct. 16.
“Friday is the biggest match of the year for us,” says French. “Rockport, at Rockport. Head-to-head, they are one of the teams we are fighting with for position in the Baker division.”
Working in the Hornets’ favor: Two of the last three matches are at their home course, Essex County Club. ME is 4-1 at home, 2-2 on the road. The Hornets have already defeated Rockport once already this season in a non-league competition on Sept. 30.
It also doesn’t hurt that this team has experience on its side. This is an older group, with five seniors and four juniors on a 12-man roster. Some of the players have been working with French and the assistant coach.
“They had some success last year, so they came in knowing what they need to do,” French says of his upperclassmen. “Essex is a tough course, but these kids play it all the time, so it’s not hard for them.”
Senior co-captains Charlie Gendron and Sean O’Neill are the one-two punch at the top of the lineup for the Hornets, a duo with great familiarity with the coaching staff.
“We used to do a middle school program – my co-coach, Rick Marshall, and I – so we’ve been working with these players for five, six years,” explains French. “Those two have been fabulous. They’re golf nuts, they work at Essex in the summertime. They’re great kids and good leaders.”
Fellow seniors Sam Rice, Griffen Kempskie and Trip Graves have all looked pretty good so far, while sophomore Sam Athanas has been a revelation for the squad.
“He has really had a terrific season, and he’s getting better and better,” French says of Athanas. “He’s a terrific kid, a very natural player.”
Whether they win the CAL Baker division or not, there’s bound to be some disappointment that the team won’t be able to attempt to continue the season any further after the regular season ends.
“Last year was really exciting for the kids who had played here for two or three years, and had never made the state tournament,” says French. “It was a big deal for the kids to win the Baker division and make the state tournament. This year, based on our record right now, we would have qualified for the states already. That’s a disappointment for the seniors who would have had one more chance to go and enjoy that.”
With that in mind, French states he is grateful that ME and the CAL were able to have a season at all due to the seriousness of the pandemic.
“The athletic department – Jordan Edgett and Muffin Driscoll – they deserve an enormous amount of credit for getting these sports out,” says Fench. “They have worked so hard and put together the fall season – what would normally take a month – in a few days.”
There are more photos and a wonderful video on ME Hornets Golf, shot by Rick Wilson available at thecricket.com.