By Matt Jenkins
---- — The St. John’s Prep golf team is among the best in the state every year. It’s the classic program that reloads instead of rebuilds.
By the time tryouts wrapped up last week, head coach Larry O’Neill had come to the conclusion that the Eagles won’t be needing to reload anytime soon.
Sophomores Steven DiLisio and James Turner, arguably the two best players for St. John’s last year, are back at the top of the lineup.
Adding to that, O’Neill found out he has two new freshmen who will contribute this fall. Chris Francoeur and Mark Turner, James’ brother, opened some eyes in tryouts and earned their spots with the Eagles.
“They’re two good freshmen,” O’Neill said. “With DiLisio and (James) Turner back, we’re going to have four good players for three years.”
Senior captain Jeff O’Connor is also a strong player for St. John’s and will find his place near the top of the lineup. Max Burt, another senior, was in the lineup last year when St. John’s contended for the state championship.
DiLisio made his presence felt early in 2012 and ended the year as the No. 1 player for St. John’s. James Turner, meanwhile, was solid all year and came on strong late in the season. DiLisio finished third in the state individual last year with a 76 and Turner wasn’t far behind, placing sixth with a 78.
St. John’s opens the season Thursday against St. John’s of Shrewsbury at Salem Country Club.
“Our first match is against the defending state champs, so we’ll find out right away,” O’Neill said about his team’s strength. “It goes from there right into a heck of a schedule, but that’s what we want. We want to find out how good we are and be ready for the (state) tournament.”
Eleven golfers in the Salem High program just returned from Walt Disney World’s Old Key West resort after spending a few days of preseason there with head coach Tommy Doyle.
This is the 11th year that Doyle has been taking his team to Disney World for part of preseason.
“This year every kid that returned went. It was kind of a unique year. Usually we take the top eight returning players,” Doyle said. “We just go down and have some fun. We went from Thursday to Tuesday. We went to all the parks and the water parks and played golf at Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course. It was great.”
Doyle considers it a great opportunity for his players to challenge their golf skills on a difficult course while also creating some team chemistry.
“They get some lifelong experiences. Four of five of them this year had never been, and that’s amazing to see those kids walk into the place and experience something like that for the first time,” Doyle said. “The kids get to bond and we always have some fun. It’s good for the kids and sets up the season nicely.”
Peabody coach Peter Cronan is back for his fourth season, and each previous year he had a clear-cut top player in Athan Goulos. This is Cronan’s first year without Goulos, who graduated last spring, but he doesn’t feel like the Tanners are going to slip much.
Senior Nolan Franey played No. 2 last year and he’s back as a captain this fall. Cronan expects Franey, juniors Matt Correale, Steve Ferrante, and sophomore Patrick McCarthy to compete for the top spot.
Sophomore transfer Ted Izzo has also been a nice surprise this preseason.
“I’m not sure who the No. 1 is yet,” Cronan said. “I think I could end up rotating through 3-4 people. They all play pretty close to the same and they play pretty good golf.”
Seniors Blake Ward and Chris Ciampa and sophomore Steve Goggin also return for Peabody. Newcomers Tommy Southern, Zachary Bille and freshman Bobby Sacramone should also add depth.
“I think (depth) will help. Last year we lost two matches by a total of four points combined. We just didn’t have the depth,” Cronan said. “The kids at the end of the lineup were fairly new to the game. Not that it was their fault, but we lost some points that if they knew the game better, which they do now, it would have helped tremendously. This season that should calculate into some more points.”
Peabody opens its season tomorrow at The Meadow against Winthrop.
Coaches aren’t typically upset when a big number of candidates try out for a sport. Swampscott coach Linda Portnoy found herself in that situation this preseason, but only because the 27 players that showed up for the Big Blue meant she was going to have to make cuts.
“It was more than ever, but it was bad news because I hate to turn anybody away,” Portnoy said.
There simply aren’t enough tee times to go around for Swampscott. Portnoy kept eight for the varsity and 12 on the junior varsity.
Swampscott plays its home matches at both Tedesco Country Club and Kernwood Country Club, and also does some practicing at Olde Salem Greens.
“We just don’t have a course that we can bring numbers to,” Portnoy said.
Danvers is usually considered a top contender in the Northeastern Conference every year, but youth and a tough schedule have Falcons coach Jeff Avigian wondering what it will take to advance to the postseason.
Danvers’ top three returning players are sophomores Mike Plansky, Wes Milbury and Christian McKenna. The Falcons are also playing a schedule that includes two matches each against St. John’s Prep, Arlington Catholic, Beverly and Triton, plus one against Masconomet.
Masconomet has been a power in the Cape Ann League for years now, but the Chieftains should look a little different this fall.
Masco has one of the area’s top players returning in junior George May, but outside of that the Chieftains are pretty inexperienced. Senior Joe Klingensmith is a co-captain along with May this year, and he was on the Masco postseason lineup last fall.
Senior Christian Cardarelli is also expected to make a leap to the top of the Masco lineup this season.
“We’re definitely a little more inexperienced this year, but we’ve got a lot of kids, from 6-12, vying for the last two or three spots,” Masco coach Ben Hodges said. “There’s not a lot that separates them and it could come down to who’s playing well and who’s familiar with what course.
“I talked to the kids at the meeting and it’s not one of those things where it’s state finals or bust. It never was that two years ago. It’s all about trying to put yourself in position to be playing your best golf in late October.”
Masco was crowned the Division 2 state champs in 2011 and placed third in the state last year.
Hodges also expects seniors Mike Manni and Paul O’Kelly to contribute this fall.
May, meanwhile, could emerge as one of the best golfers in the state in Hodges’ opinion.
“He’s capable of probably being one of the better golfers in the state, if not the best,” Hodges said. “He has all the tools. It’s a matter of playing consistently for all 18 holes. In the state or sectional finals there were maybe a couple holes that would do him in a little. I think he’s ready to do that now as a junior.”