At many public high schools, teams are often comprised of athletes who are introduced to each other long before they try out for the school team, at the youth level. And that familiarity helps strengthen cohesiveness in high school.
At Shawsheen Valley Tech, the story is a bit different: Relationships form on the fly freshman year, with players residing in one of the vocational school’s core towns — Burlington, Bedford, Wilmington, Tewksbury, and Billerica.
The Rams have strung together year-to-year success despite the geographical challenges. Shawsheen recently wrapped up a 9-0 season with its 16th consecutive Commonwealth Athletic Conference golf title.
“It’s a varsity program that we only carry 12 players," said coach Tom Struthers, a graphic communications instructor at the school. "By the end of our first year all those 12 kids are like brothers.
“Usually we always commute to our practices together, and to all our matches together. This is the only year that they’ve had to drive themselves because of the [coronavirus]. Our program brings all these kids together, even though they’re all from different towns.”
Al Costabile, the school’s athletic director, credits Struthers for an upbeat attitude that is infectious. “He does a phenomenal job,” said the AD.
The 12-player roster listed seven seniors. Steven O’Connor, a captain from Wilmington, and Sean Murphy (Tewksbury) averaged a team-low 41 over nine holes in 25 total rounds between practices and matches. Nolan Rexford (Billerica, 42), Aiden Sullivan (Burlington, 42), Connor Preble (Tewksbury, 43), D.J. Ducharme (Burlington, 44), and Brendan Kelly (Billerica, 46) also produced points.
At Shawsheen, juniors and seniors participate in co-ops and alternate between work placement and academic classes each week. This creates an additional challenge as students who are on co-op often have a much longer commute to the course each day.
O’Connor recently began his work as an HVAC technician, which forced him to drive from Boston to Shawsheen’s home course — Patriot Golf Course in Bedford — several times per week.
“I would leave at 1 or 2 and then have to drive, get caught in some traffic, drive to the course,” O’Connor said. “Then we’d usually change and get ready in the parking lot and then just go out and play our round.”
O’Connor found the travel to be physically draining but credited mental toughness for his success on the course.
“Golf is really mental. It’s not a physical sport,” O’Connor said. “So as long as you can get your mind in the game, you should be able to shoot your best round. It depends on the day, but we learn to adapt. Maybe you have a bad first hole, but you bounce back.”
It can be tough for a golfer to go straight from the car to the first tee without a warm-up, but O’Connor found that he adapted to the routine quickly, which helped him contribute to his team’s success even more.
“It’s great to be able to play [without a warm-up], under any circumstances,” O’Connor said. “We were able to play well, and then when we did get the chance to warm up, we played even better.”
Despite not being able to compete for a sectional or state title, O’Connor is convinced that his team would have been in contention.
“I think this year was easily our best team [in his four years] and we had a really good chance of winning states," O’Connor said. "We could have beaten any team in the state, and I’m convinced of that.”
▪ Bridgewater-Raynham finished 10-0 and won its seventh straight league title (second in the Southeast Conference) despite the absence of senior captain Tom Cooney for most of the season. He played in just four of the team’s 10 matches after having to quarantine for two weeks on two separate occasions following close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Sophomore Justin Peters stepped forward and won the SEC individual title with a 79 at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton.
B-R coach George Pimental believes that with several players missing time — he called it a blessing just to get through the season — depth helped carry the Trojans to the championship. Pimental was not surprised that Peters, a captain-elect, continued to play well.
“You could see how good a golfer he was, and he’s a great athlete and has a great personality,” Pimental said. “He’s very steady and he moved up quite a bit [this year].”
▪ Bishop Stang quickly handled the Catholic Central League, completing its first season in league play with a 12-0 record, including a win over defending Division 3 state champion St. Mary’s.
The new conference meant a new scoring format; Stang switched from stroke play to Stableford this year. With seven of the top 10 scores counting in each match, depth was more important than ever. Coach Tom Kennedy said his 2020 edition was the deepest in his 16 years as coach.
The top five players had a scoring average of 40.8, and the top seven were below 43.
“I’ve had some really good teams and we’ve gone to the states quite a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a team like this,” Kennedy said.
▪ King Philip won the Hockomock League title at Franklin Country Club Monday. Jared Curran (78) earned individual honors for the Warriors (238), who beat runner-up North Attleboro by nine shots.
Players of the Week
Aiden Emmerich, St. Mary’s — The junior pocketed five birdies and shot a 3-under 66 at Hillview Country Club in North Reading on Monday to lead St. Mary’s to the Catholic Central title.
Jacob Finard, Weston — The senior carded a 3-over 73 at Quail Ridge Country Club in Acton to win the Dual County League individual title.
Chad Correia, Bishop Feehan — He shot a 1-under 68 to finish as the individual runner-up at the CCL Cup and helped his team to a fourth-place finish.
Nolan Skaggs, Plymouth South — The senior continued his stellar season by shooting a 78 at Pembroke Country Club on Monday to finish as the medalist in the inaugural Patriot Cup.
Molly Smith, Westford Academy — The junior carded a 5-over 75 in difficult conditions at Quail Ridge to finish as the runner-up in the Dual County League individual tournament.