Steve Failla thought he was in a rough spot last year when he had only one player on his Riverhead High School girls golf team with any prior playing experience, an issue that was exacerbated by inclement early-season weather that limited the team’s practice time.
“I thought it couldn’t get worse,” he said. “I was wrong.”
Usher in the early spring of 2015, which has featured snow, rain and bitter cold. Not exactly prime playing conditions for golf.
Failla has found this spring’s weather even worse so far. To put things in perspective, the Blue Waves’ practice last Thursday was only their fourth outdoors since preseason practice started on March 9. That is quite amazing, and telling.
Often forced indoors by the weather, the Blue Waves showed some ingenuity. Failla said he bought a driving-range net and attached it to the batting cage at Pulaski Street School, setting up an indoor driving facility for his players.
“You got to think outside of the box,” he said.
Failla said the Blue Waves also had some indoor putting surfaces to play on.
“You can get a lot done with a putting green and a driving range,” he said.
It also helped that the Indian Island Country Club in Riverhead donated the use of its driving range, free of charge.
How much of a difference will all this make once the matches begin?
“It’s hard to put a value on something like that,” Failla said, “but what it has done for us is as soon as we got outside we didn’t have to review the mechanics of the swing.” He noted, “At least we could work with grip and swing and that sort of stuff.”
The Blue Waves went 1-9 last year. The one player who had previous golfing experience, sophomore Aby Brophy, tied with senior Abigail Wehunt for the team-leading average.
Those two are among nine returning players. One of them, senior Cassidy Brown, has worked hard on her game in the off-season, said Failla. He said, “I think she’s going to shock some people.”
Brianne Corwin is the team’s third senior.
Failla hopes to see the fruit of a good recruiting year in 2014. The rest of the roster shows five sophomores (Kristen Kinghan, Emily Densieski, Lindsey Denninger, Claire O’Connor and a French foreign exchange student, Lila Cheval) and two freshmen (Alex Kozakiewicz and Jackie Kratoville).
“That’s our fighting 11,” said Failla, who has coached the team for five years of its seven-year history.
The Blue Waves will continue to play their home matches on the Cherry Creek Golf Links’ par-36 front nine in Riverhead.
Failla said he is seeing more skill and likes what he is hearing from his players. Whereas last year he had to deal with basic matters such as the rules of golf and golf etiquette, he said he is now being asked more technical questions, such as how to hit shots out of the sand.
What hasn’t been so friendly has been the weather, although Failla sounded hopeful about seeing more sun and less rain in the days to come. He said, “The worst of Mother Nature’s curveballs are in the past.”
At least he hopes so.