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Girls Golf Preview: Taste of title has Riverhead wanting more

The Riverhead High School girls golf team has one tough act to follow — itself.

The Blue Waves (11-1 last year) are coming off a stellar season in which they captured their first title, sharing the Suffolk County League III crown with Sachem.

This year’s team has lost several key veterans to graduation but has a number of promising young golfers who show much potential.

“We’re going to be young,” coach Steve Failla said. “The future is very bright.”

In many ways, senior captain Alex Kozakiewicz, the Blue Waves’ most consistent golfer, exemplifies the story of the nine-year-old program. Kozakiewicz, the lone 12th-grader on the team, is in her sixth year of competition.

“She’s our senior leader,” Failla said. “She’s really patient and good with the younger girls. We have a lot of new faces.”

Failla has three other returnees that could have long careers with Riverhead as well. Eighth-graders Morgan Dunn and Bianca Bossey competed as seventh-graders last year as did freshman Gabriella Vogel as an eighth-grader. They are ready to cut some strokes off their scores.

“It’s clear that [Dunn] has been working all year long on her golf game,” Failla said.

Failla hopes history will repeat itself at Riverhead in the years ahead.

“They remind me of four years ago when our seniors were young,” he said. “When they become seniors, we got to hang a banner.”

The Blue Waves, whose start to the season has been postponed two weeks by the inclement weather, are chomping at the bit to begin hitting the ball around.

Like all schools, they face a congested schedule. Riverhead is scheduled to meet Mount Sinai at Willow Creek Golf and Country Club April 10 and then Southampton at Cherry Creek Golf Links, the team’s home course, a day later.

“It’s going to be rough,” Failla said. “Long hours for the girls.”

But it could pay off in the long run.

Coach Debbie Lutjen has a lot of rebuilding to do at Shoreham-Wading River (0-12), as several seniors from last year’s squad have graduated. Lutjen will let the players’ results determine who winds up where in the pecking order for the Wildcats, who compete in League III.

“I’ll use nine-hole scores,” she said. “Whoever has the lowest will be No. 1. Once we have the matches, I’ll average the scores.”

The Wildcats have two returnees — juniors Jackie Holden and Caroline Morgan.

Holden, who competed in the fourth and fifth spots last year, is expected to move up in the order.

“She’s improved,” Lutjen said. “She works hard and works on her game.”

Morgan was “very respectable at all our matches last year,” Lutjen said.

Junior Kathleen Loscalzo, who played softball in 2017, is participating in her first year of golf. “Being a good athlete, I think she’s going to pick it up quickly,” Lutjen said.

The coach also has similar hopes for junior Carolyn Merced, who has joined the squad for the first time.

“I’ve had a feeling she played with her parents,” she said. “I can see form in her swing. I think she has potential.”

Other players who did not compete last year include juniors Reese Mangan and Zana Sawas and freshman Yusra Rashidzada.

Lutjen has simple goals.

“It’s going to be tough, but I think we’ll see improvement as the season goes on and that’s the most important thing,” she said. “I don’t want to put pressure on them. As long as they learn the game and improve.”

The Wildcats, who call Great Rock Golf Club home, are scheduled to meet Sachem and Ward Melville at Heatherwood Golf Club on April 11.

Photo caption: Riverhead coach Steve Failla said: “We’re going to be young. The future is very bright.” (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)