This could be the year.
The Riverhead High School gym doesn’t have a boys golf championship banner hanging from its walls. Maybe, just maybe, that can change this year.
That’s Steve Failla’s hope, anyway.
“Talent-wise, this is the strongest team that I’ve had,” said Failla, in his sixth year as Riverhead’s coach. “If we play to our potential this year, I think we can hang a banner.”
And he isn’t the only one.
Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood, whose team won the Suffolk County League VII championship for a fourth straight year in 2018 (one notch above second-place Riverhead), said this could be the first time in 20 years that the League VII champion will not be either Mattituck or Eastport-South Manor. More specifically, he declared Riverhead to be the league favorite.
Last year Mattituck defeated Riverhead twice, but they were close matches, decided by four and five strokes.
Riverhead finished in second place with a 7-3 record. (Mattituck defeated Riverhead, 7-2, on Tuesday.)
“We had a great year,” Failla said. “Last year I would say was the best team in school history.”
This year’s Blue Waves may want to attach an asterisk to that statement. Riverhead has five lineup players back, led by junior Anthony Caputo, who became the first Riverhead player to play in the state tournament in June. Caputo, who had a 40 average per nine holes, was cleared to play three days before the state tournament after breaking his thumb.
“I’m not surprised he made it” to the state tournament, Failla said. “I’m surprised he made it as a sophomore. I knew it was in his future.”
Caputo, who finished eighth in the county tournament, was one of only nine golfers from Suffolk County to make the 88-player field for the state tournament.
“Anthony’s a purist,” Failla said. “His approach to the game is the way the game was meant to be approached. He’s a young man with high character and lots of integrity and I feel like he competes not just with his opponent but against himself.”
The other returning lineup players are All-League senior Chris Timpone (41), junior Noah Strauss, junior C.J. Mauceri and senior Alex Meras. Junior J.D. Davide and senior Van Gatz also have previous varsity experience. The new additions are junior Evan Kappenberg, junior James Devaney and sophomore Matt Caputo, Anthony’s brother.
“Our top six, I feel like on any given day any of them could have the best score,” Failla said. “There’s nobody that needs to carry the team.”
And who knows how far that will carry them?
As promising as Riverhead looks, Failla understands that the competition in League VII will be stiff.
“On any given day, if we don’t take care of business, any of the teams could be our toughest competition, but Mattituck is a team that we’ve never beaten in a match, and they have been the perennial league champions,” he said. “They’re well-coached and I expect them to be formidable.”
Shoreham-Wading River coach Rich Muller did not respond to messages. The Wildcats went 4-6 last season.