What this high school girls golf season will bring for Riverhead remains to be seen, but it’s clear that this is a team built for the future.
The youth on the team is striking. Making up the 11-player roster are one junior, two sophomores, seven freshmen and one seventh-grader.
Now that’s young.
Oh, and there’s a new coach as well. Ken Marelli takes over from Steve Failla, who had coached Riverhead (3-9 last season) the past seven years.
Two years removed from its first league championship, Riverhead is making a fresh start of sorts, although the Blue Waves have six returning players in Bianca Bossey, Jessica Giglio, Morgan Dunn, Mackenzie Jacobs, Alivia Wooten and Riley Reister — all freshmen.
The new additions are junior Carmen Dardon Mayorga, sophomores Kimberly Horvat and Gabriela Vogel, freshman Grace Dono and seventh-grader Alexandra Hoverkamp.
The Riverhead lineup remained to be sorted out Monday, heading into the team’s season-opening match against Longwood Thursday at Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead, the Blue Waves’ home course with a par-36 front nine.
“There is probably eight of them shooting for the six starting spots right now,” Marelli said. “It’s open. I have four [players] that are one or two strokes away from each other every day.”
“The girls all work hard,” he continued. “There’s no fooling around. We spent four days in the gym and they spent two hours working on their game in the gym, what they can do, chipping, putting, driving it into the net. But they’re a great group. They’re easy to get along with. They show up every day and work hard, and they all seem to get along.”
What will be the key to Riverhead’s success?
“A lot of it’s going to be just consistency,” Marelli said. “A couple of them are spraying the ball right now a little … If they can consistently hit the ball in the fairway, we’re going to score very well. The chipping and putting game looks very good. It’s whether or not we can get to the greens.”
Shoreham-Wading River coach Debbie Lutjen can agree about the value of chipping and putting. “It’s the short game,” she said when talking about her team. “It’s the shots inside a hundred yards. If they focus on that and not worry about how far they hit the ball, I think they’ll continue to improve.”
That certainly was the case last year when SWR went from zero wins in its debut season in 2017 to three wins.
“They knew what to expect,” Lutjen said. “It was their second year playing. Other than hitting balls in physical education class, they had never played” before 2017.
All-League Katie Loscalzo, the team MVP, is back along with fellow seniors Carolyn Merced and Caroline Morgan, who was named the team’s most improved player last year.
“Katie’s an ex-softball player, so she’s an athlete,” Lutjen said. “Whether it’s a baseball swing, a softball swing or a golf swing, it’s on the same plane. She has the hand-eye coordination. She’s a strong girl. She can hit the ball a distance.”
The other returners are freshman Allison Costello, junior Jackie Holden, sophomore Yusra Rashidzada, senior Zana Sawas and freshman Elizabeth Holden.
SWR lost one of its top players, Natalie Jepson, to graduation. She’s now playing for Rhode Island College.
“I’m optimistic,” Lutjen said. “I think we’ll hold our own.”
SWR has moved its home base from Great Rock Country Club in Wading River to The Woods at Cherry Creek in Riverhead, which has a par-35 front nine with three par-3 holes and narrow tree-lined fairways.
Lutjen said, “It’s going to be an easier course for the girls to walk because it’s not hilly, but Great Rock was in our backyard.”
Photo caption: Riverhead freshman Grace Dono strikes an approach shot while seventh-grader Alexandra Hoverkamp watches during practice at Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead. (Credit: Bob Liepa)