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WOOD RIVER JCT.â€”Itâ€™s been 14 years since the Southern Division produced a state champion in golf but this spring the eight-team division is hoping to change that.
After North Kingstown won back-to-back titles in 1998 and â€™99 and Hendricken took the title the next two years Barrington has reclaimed its throne atop the stateâ€™s high school golf kingdom.
The Eagles â€“ who have the most championships with 23 â€“ have won nine of the last 11 titles, with only hiccups coming in 2006 and 2011 when Tiverton and Cumberland won, respectively.
Thanks to a recent rule change though, the south may have its best chance to produce a champion in years.
In the past the top two finishers from each division from the regular season standings have automatically qualified for the state tournament, while the next three are forced to duke it out in a playoff match for the third bid.
Last season Chariho was the third qualifier but the Chargers had to shoot a 154 just to hold off South Kingstown (157) and Prout (158).
This spring the same rules are in place, however, if a school can qualify four individuals to the state meet then their cumulative scores will count towards the team standings.
Had that rule been in place last season SK and Prout would have finished in sixth and ninth places, respectively, in the state tournament to give the South five teams in the top 10.
â€śThatâ€™s a fair idea,â€ť Chariho coach Michael Nedwidek said of the rule. â€śOur division was the strongest of all five divisions top to bottom last year â€“ especially the first five â€“ and we had to go 2-0 on an away match just to qualify for the states as a team last year.
â€śItâ€™s a great rule change, it was considered and passed unanimously. The better kids deserve to be there and represent their schools and teams.â€ť
Top to bottom the Southern Division is by far the most competitive but taking the state title wonâ€™t be easy.
Barrington returns all four of its scorers from its state championship team from a season ago, while top five finishers Hendricken and LaSalle return three out of their top four scorers.
North Kingstown likely has the best chance at dethroning the Eagles this season as seniors Owen Heath, Justin Pratt, Adam Southworth and Alex Burke led the Skippers to a fourth place finish at states last spring.
â€śLast year it was a strong division and this year itâ€™s a very strong division,â€ť NK coach Dom Marcone says. â€śI think itâ€™s anybodyâ€™s [to win].â€ť
Chariho, South Kingstown and Prout are also strong this season and in a fickle sport like golf, anything can happen as long as you can get to state meet.
Individually, this promises to be a great season for the division.
Barringtonâ€™s John Kraunelis is back to defend his individual title but outside of Portsmouthâ€™s Jake Bauer and Hendrickenâ€™s Justin Matrone, his greatest competition will come from the Southern Division.
NKâ€™s Heath, Pratt and Southworth, SKâ€™s McKinley Slade, Proutâ€™s Matt Costaregni and Charihoâ€™s back-and-forth foursome of Corey Zegarzewski, Kory Log, Brad Anderson and Oliver Martel could all be in the mix to challenge Kraunelis.
On the girls side, Proutâ€™s Nicole Scola will be aiming to make history as only the second four-time girls individual state champion in Rhode Island golf history.
â€śSheâ€™s playing exceptionally well right now,â€ť Scolaâ€™s coach, Tom Townsend says. â€śI think sheâ€™s playing better now than she did at the end of last year.
â€śShe had a good summer, I think she won the Womenâ€™s Rhode Island Amateur Open and she won a couple of other tournaments so she plays a lot. Sheâ€™s really, really good.â€ť
Currently North Kingstownâ€™s Dara Rittman â€“ who won the title from 1993-96 â€“ stands alone as the only four-time champion.
As for the local teams in the Southern Division, hereâ€™s a breakdown of what to expect when the season begins Monday, April 22:
CHARIHO (9-5 last season, seventh at states). Coach: Michael Nedwidek. Home course: Richmond Country Club.
The Chargers didnâ€™t make it to day two of the state tournament last season but that could change this year.
Replacing Colin Zegarzewski â€“ who finished tied for fourth at states last season â€“ wonâ€™t be easy but Chariho likely has a better-rounded team this spring.
Zegarzewski, Log, Anderson and Martel are all capable of playing scratch golf and should alternate as the Chargersâ€™ top scorers this season.
â€śWeâ€™ve got four guys that at any time could be the low man for the day,â€ť Nedwidek says. â€śColin was a big loss. He was first-team, All-State and historically a very accurate player but weâ€™ve had a couple people step into that spot and play well.â€ť
While the top four has distinguished themselves as the top scorers, Nick Chartier, Jerry Baker, Sam Martel and Tyler Dâ€™Alfonso arenâ€™t too far off from the pack either.
â€śWeâ€™ve got a good group of kids whose primary interest is playing golf,â€ť Nedwidek says, â€śso itâ€™s been a pleasure.â€ť
COVENTRY (2-12 last season, did not qualify for postseason). Coach: Adam Knight. Home course: Coventry Pines Golf Course.
Expect improvement from the Oakers this season but how much is tough to say. In almost any other division Coventry is an above .500 team but in the ultra competitive South it wonâ€™t be easy.
Taylor Fortier and Jake Anderson each qualified for the state tournament last season and should be the Oakersâ€™ top scorers along with senior Austin Ross.
Brandon Hassell, Scott Francis, Hannah Staley and Eric Pesola should also be consistent scorers for the Oakers, while Caleb Carr and Bryce Suvajian are currently just outside the top flight but could challenge the top six as the season goes on.
â€śWeâ€™re looking pretty good,â€ť Knight says. â€śTheyâ€™re all striking the ball really well and I know Iâ€™m going to have my work cut out for me determining a top five. Itâ€™s a good problem to have.
â€śIâ€™d like to say weâ€™re going to be competitive but having said that as many strides weâ€™ve made already we have to make more to be that competitive. We have to shoot under 40 to really give these teams a run this year.â€ť
EXETER-WEST GREENWICH (2-12 last season, did not qualify for postseason). Coach: Dave Zyons. Home course: Pinecrest Golf Club.
The Knights have a strong core of upperclassmen leading the way this season but are in a similar position to Coventry in that competing with the elite teams in the South will be a challenge.
Senior Pat DiPadua failed to make the cut after qualifying for the state tournament last season but this spring he very well could find himself playing on day two.
Seniors J.P. Connolly, Ben Andrews and Austin Zuercher, as well as junior Ian Geyer give the Knights a solid core to rely on after DiPadua.
â€śWe should be OK,â€ť Zyons says. â€śThe potential is there and they can play but weâ€™ll see what happens. This is probably the toughest division from top to bottom but thatâ€™s good.â€ť
NARRAGANSETT: (2-12 last season, did not qualify for postseason). Coach: Bill Behrends. Home course: Point Judith Country Club.
According to Behrends this is the deepest team he has had in some time and with 24 golfers listed on his roster itâ€™s easy to see why.
â€śWe had 55 golfers try out, which is the most we ever had,â€ť Behrends says. â€śThis could be my strongest team Iâ€™ve ever had but the whole rest of the league has just gotten better and better every single year.â€ť
That being said, golf is not a sport like track where you need depth to win; you only need four and the Mariners will have a hard time challenging the top four of teams like Chariho, Prout, NK and SK.
Junior Brandon Barlow is the Marinersâ€™ top returner from a season ago as he was one of two Mariners to qualify for the individual tournament last spring, where he missed the cut by four strokes.
Junior Ben Rauh â€“ who also made states last year â€“ and classmate Tom Adamo will be vying for the second and third positions, while senior captain Evan Carvalho, junior Cam Fossa and freshman Paul Carvalho should also be consistently in the top six for the Mariners.
â€śI donâ€™t make predictions because you end up eating them later with salt and pepper,â€ť Behrends says, â€śbut itâ€™s going to be a very, very interesting year.â€ť
NORTH KINGSTOWN (12-2 regular season, fourth at state tournament). Coach: Dom Marcone. Home course: North Kingstown Public Golf Course.
After Tuesdayâ€™s Southern League Kickoff Tournament Marcone joked with Nedwidek that Chariho was the favorite to with the division this season because the Chargers had just won the opening tournament by two strokes.
â€śWeâ€™re always chasing Chariho,â€ť Marcone pried. â€śHe [Nedwidek] is the odd-on favorite to win the division.â€ť
Nedwidek was quick to respond that Marconeâ€™s Skippersâ€™ were the favorite and itâ€™s hard to disagree.
North returns all four its scorers from last seasonâ€™s state meet and when on their game Heath, Pratt and Southworth all have the potential to be as good as anyone else in the state.
Throw in strong returner senior Alex Burke, junior Drew Murphy and a freshman with a ton of potential in Alex Parente and the Skippers have as good of a shot as anyone at knocking off Barrington. Juniors Alex Gershkoff and Christian Haupt should also push for a top six spot as well.
â€śWe expect big things,â€ť Marcone says. â€śIâ€™ll be disappointed if weâ€™re not in the top three. I think we have a legitimate shot but itâ€™s a two-day tournament. Golf is so fickle that anything can happen in a two-day tournament.â€ť
PROUT: (9-5 regular season, lost to Chariho in playoff qualifier). Coach: Tom Townsend. Home Course: Weekapaug Golf Club.
Senior Nicole Scola will be in search of her fourth individual girls state title and senior Matt Costaregni will be in the mix for an in individual state title.
â€śMatt has improved in leaps and bounds,â€ť Townsend says. â€śHe went from 20th in the state in scoring from his sophomore year to fourth last year and heâ€™s actually better this year. His short game is just unbelievable; I havenâ€™t seen too many kids that have a short game like he does.â€ť
Itâ€™s pretty safe to say this could be a special season for the Crusaders.
The biggest question facing Prout is who will replace Matt Gerlach and Pat Gill as the teamâ€™s third and fourth scorers this spring.
Townsend has a handful of candidates but so far it looks like a committee of Ryan Donovan, Sal Savastano, Frank Cappuccio, Jeff Shoren and Matt Murphy will be the most viable candidates.
â€śWeâ€™ll be fine,â€ť Townsend says. â€śMaybe not the strongest team Iâ€™ve had but it could be the deepest team. Iâ€™ve got probably 10 kids that will play in varsity matches.â€ť
SOUTH KINGSTOWN: (9-4-1 regular season, lost to Chariho in playoff qualifier). Coach: Toby Gibbons. Home course: Laurel Lanes Golf Course.
Last season the Rebels were the best team not to qualify as a team for states, as a tie with Westerly during the regular season and three strokes in the playoff qualifier with Chariho and Prout kept them out of the postseason tournament.
This season South should once again be strong with Slade â€“ who will continue his playing career at Bryant University in the fall â€“ at the top of the lineup as he has all the shots and has the potential to beat anyone if heâ€™s on his game.
â€śHe was a first-team, All-Stater last year,â€ť Gibbons says. â€śHeâ€™s got his college stuff already done so heâ€™s just relaxed and playing some golf.â€ť
Lefty Justin Smith, a junior, will hold down the second spot for the Rebels this season, while senior Alex Armstrong and junior Mia Bartolotta should be consistent scorers for SK this season.
Senior Andrew Nedwidek â€“ son of Chariho coach Michael Nedwidek â€“ has been solidly in the No. 5 spot so far and will push to be in the top four throughout the season.
â€śTheyâ€™re a good group of kids,â€ť Gibbons says. â€śIâ€™m looking forward to having a fun time this year.â€ť
WESTERLY (10-3-1 regular season, ninth at state tournament). Coach: Gary Korytkowski. Home course: Shelter Harbor Golf Club.
The Bulldogs lost four of their top six golfers from a season ago but each season Westerly seems to find a way to be competitive.
Senior Austin Cilley â€“ a star on the boys basketball team this winter â€“ and classmate Greg Garceau will lead the Bulldogs this season.
Senior Christian Foster, sophomore Sal DeSarro, junior Joe Luzzi and freshman Joey Kuzmic will likely round out Westerlyâ€™s top six to start the season but with a larger roster and a great deal of turnover from last season that could change.