PHS boys golf opened the season at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on April 4. Picture, from left; Quinn Lapinski, Luke Stennett, Joe LaMalfa, Ben Fecteau, and Aiden Peterson
After winning both the conference championship and state title in each of the last two seasons, Portland High School boys golf aims for another double-dip of championship success this spring.
Head coach Joe Santavenere said the team has embraced the role as the lead dog, using it as motivation to remain on top.
“The good thing about golf is it is a numbers game and you can keep setting higher goals,” said Santavenere. “They are not only competing with everybody else, but also with themselves. We just try to get better as a team and not worry about what is going on outside the team.”
Swagger has also been part of the success and they again have reason to be confident this spring with the team’s top three golfers from a year ago returning.
Junior Luke Stennett was the co-medalist at both the Shoreline Conference (SLC) championships and Division III state championship last spring, leading the way as the Highlanders easily won both events.
The previous season, Stennett shocked the local golfing community by winning the Division IV state championships as a freshman.
Santavenere has seen his golfing prodigy grow in more ways than one.
“As he’s gotten older he has taken on that leadership role as well, helping the younger guys,” added Santavenere. “He’s all about the team and he wants to get better for himself and for the team. He’s making sure he is bringing everyone else with him to make us one of the best teams in the state.”
Fellow junior Quinn Lapinski finished 3rd at the state championships and Santavenere said Lapinski is just reaching his potential, adding, “He’s one of those underrated players. He’s already had an outstanding career and I’m excited for his junior year as well.”
Senior Joe LaMalfa is also back following a banner year on the course, earning first-team all-conference with Stennett and Lapinski.
Santavenere said he expects even bigger and better things from his returning golfers this spring.
“Those three guys are competitive with each other and that trickles down to the other guys that are competing and earn spots,” added Santavenere. “They see how it’s done and they are pushing each other to get better.”
Santavenere is looking to fill the team’s coveted fourth slot, vacated by graduate Eli Evison.
Vying for the 4th and 5th spots will be Ben Fecteau, Giovanni Discenza, and Aidan Peterson.
All three are multi-sport athletes with Fecteau starring on the basketball court, Discenza on the soccer fields, and Peterson playing both basketball and soccer.
Santavenere said the trio’s competitive nature has allowed them to hit the ground running this spring and all three are capable of shooting a score of under-40 on any given round.
“They have clearly worked at it and it’s been a nice surprise. Having that depth has been huge for us,” added Santavenere, who is in his 11th season leading the program. “Just like our top three guys, those three also push each other every day.”
With a handful of state titles under his belt, Santavenere said the keys to the team’s prolonged success is that the golfers that come through PHS genuinely like each other and have a healthy competition in practice.
He recalled a particular practice round this spring where Stennett and Lapinski were not happy with their performances, so they stayed on the range afterwards to put in more work.
“It’s the kids that are excelling and making the program what is it,” said Santavenere. “They go out on the weekends and play with each other and they are competing with each other, but they are also supporting each other for that perfect balance.”
The Highlanders kicked off their quest for a “three-peat” at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, defeating the Panthers 139-151 on Tuesday, April 4.
Santavenere said the team was “pumped up” going into the season-opener. They had played at the professional venue a season ago, but didn’t get good weather for the match.
In Tuesday’s meet, the weather was sunny and ideal for golf as Stennett finished as the co-medalist, shooting a 32 and tying Cromwell’s Jack Wise atop the leaderboard.
Lapinski (34), LaMalfa (36), and Fecteau (37) contributed to the Highlanders scoring, while Peterson shot a 42 to round out the five Highlanders that played.
Santavenere said competing with Cromwell, a conference opponent, was a good early-season test.
Next up is a conference home match against Old Saybrook on Tuesday, April 18 at Portland Golf Course, teeing off at 2:45 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin