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06/02/13 10:30am
06/02/2013 10:30 AM

Corey Giannuzzi is not the sort to wear her emotions on her sleeve. Giannuzzi, a senior on the Riverhead girls golf team, has a knack for taking things in stride, keeping an even keel. That’s an invaluable quality for a golfer. It also makes her tough to read sometimes.

“I can’t tell after the end of a round whether she had a good round or a bad round,” said Riverhead coach Steve Failla.

But the smile on Giannuzzi’s face following the final round of the Section XI Championship on May 23 said it all.

“I could tell you she was really happy,” Failla said. “After the county championship, she was smiling for me to see teeth.”

And why not? The occasion was worthy of a smile. Giannuzzi is a trailblazer of sorts for Riverhead golf. She became the first player in the team’s six-year varsity history to qualify for the final round of the Section XI Championship.

Riverhead had been represented in the Suffolk County tournament before. Kaylee Wells, a junior, played in the first round the last couple of years, but never made it to the final round. Giannuzzi herself reached the first round of the tournament when she was an eighth-grader, but “that was just a disaster,” she said.

Considering that only 96 of the county’s 500 or so golfers qualify for the tournament, and only 30 of those make the cut for the second day of the two-day competition, it’s a considerable achievement.

Giannuzzi shot an 89 in the first round of 18 holes and a 100 in the second round. She finished 20th overall.

“I think that’s outstanding,” Failla said. “I think it’s a testament to setting a goal for yourself and working hard every day and staying focused on it.”

What was Giannuzzi’s take on it?

“I guess it was kind of cool,” she said. “I think it felt different this year because I actually had a chance of moving on to the next round.”

Giannuzzi’s temperament undoubtedly helps her. She said it doesn’t matter much to her if she takes a bad shot; she just shakes it off and moves on to the next shot.

“I’ve watched her evolve over the years,” Failla said. “She’s calm, cool and collected. She doesn’t get upset. She has faith that the next shot will make up for it. She’s got the mentality for golf that we should all have. She doesn’t get too low with the lows.”

Giannuzzi joined the team when she was in seventh grade, the same year that the varsity team started. She didn’t play one year as a freshman. Giannuzzi is one of the team’s four seniors. Catherine Brophy, Carina Oliva and Rebecca Merker are the others.

Riverhead has also been aided by the play of a first-year player, junior Olivia Serpico, and an eighth-grader, Aby Brophy, who is Catherine’s sister.

Riverhead finished with a 3-9 record, a team record for wins in a season. Failla said each match the Blue Waves played was decided by less than 10 strokes.

“We were competitive every day,” he said. “Every match we were right in it.”
Because Riverhead doesn’t have a junior varsity team or a middle school team, Failla said he is looking for middle school players for next season who are interested in playing a varsity sport.

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03/27/13 5:00pm
03/27/2013 5:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead junior Kaylee Wells returns as the No. 1 golfer for the Blue Waves.

There’s certainly nothing like experience.

For the first time during his three year-tenure as the Riverhead High School girls golf coach, Steve Failla has four seniors who he can rely on, which makes him quite optimistic entering the season.

“This is the first time we have real experience coming back,” he said. “They’re really committed to what they’re doing.”

Last year’s team won two matches, tying the school record for most wins in a season. The girls golf program is very young, entering only its fifth year this spring.

“We definitely expected to create another record,” Failla said. “I’ll tell you what, we have the potential to be in the mix for the playoffs. That would be a nice way to send our seniors off.”

The Blue Waves will begin their season by hosting Mount Sinai at Cherry Creek Golf Links on Tuesday.

While the seniors are the backbone of this team, the No. 1 golfer is a junior, Kaylee Wells, who has been the top seed for three consecutive seasons.

“She works very hard,” Failla said. “She’s strong off the tee. She always keeps it on the fairway. Very consistent.”

Consistency will be the key for the Blue Waves, and that’s where four seniors — Kathryn Brophy, Corey Giannuzzi, Rebecca Merker and Carina Oliva — come in.

Failla said that Brophy and Giannuzzi “have worked very hard this off-season. I have high expectations for them. They spent a lot of time on the driving range and chipping for their short game.”

Merker, who missed last season because of injury, has something to prove this spring.

“She was real upset last year because she couldn’t play,” Failla said. “She had to work hard to get back into playing shape, and I hope she goes on to help us this year.”

Another senior, Oliva, has shown much promise in the preseason.

“She has been very inconsistent in years past, kind of like the rest of us, but she’s shown more consistency this season,” said Failla.

Failla’s optimism doesn’t stop with the seniors. Three relative newcomers have given him a reason or two to smile.

Junior Oliva Serpico, a field hockey player, is playing golf for the first time this spring.

“She never saw a golf club until three months ago,” Failla said. “She’s going to make a push to start this year. She takes that competitive fire she demonstrates on the field hockey field and brings it to her golf game. She’s motivated.”

Eighth grader Abygale Brophy, the younger sister of Kathryn, also is making a push to start. “She has all the tools to become a great golfer,” Failla said. “She has to become more consistent. She has a bright future in the sport.”

Failla noted that the Brophy’s father “is a very good golfer. So they’re getting outstanding coaching at home as well.”

Junior Jill Zaremba, who is playing golf in her second year, “already has improved greatly,” he said.

Another junior, Karyn Torre, is expected to miss the season due to injuries she sustained in a recent ski accident.

03/28/12 11:00am
03/28/2012 11:00 AM

BOB LIEPA FILE PHOTO | Jackie Hulse, a sophomore, is one of Riverhead's top golfers.

When the Riverhead High School girls golf coach, Steve Failla, says his team is young, he isn’t kidding or exaggerating. The Blue Waves have one freshman and four sophomores in the mix for their upcoming season.

“We’ve got everybody coming back and we’re still very young,” Failla said.

Young enough that Failla’s top two golfers are sophomores. Kaylee Wells and Jackie Hulse, whose improvement and dedication to the sport makes the coach optimistic about the immediate season and for the next three years.

“Kaylee and Jackie have the strongest work ethic,” he said. “It’s evident they feel the sport. Kaylee plays every day in the summer; Jackie is in a league. They’re leaders about work ethic.”

Sophomores Karyn Torre and Erin Kealy are in the mix for starting spots. Catherine Brophy and Corey Gianuzzi and Corin Olivia are the returning juniors and freshman Jill Zaremba is the lone newcomer.

“They’re all really excited about this year,” Failla said.

Aysha Ozyilmaz is the lone senior on the team. “She’s kind of the leader of the crew,” Failla said.

The Blue Waves have 10 girls on the team. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Failla said. “You only play six girls in a match.

“Having that core of 10 is really a good number to have because they get a lot of work.”

The Blue Waves certainly have gotten a lot of work outside in preparation for their season, which has been helped by a relatively warm March. They have been able to work the course at Cherry Creek Golf Links, where they will host Sachem East in their opening match of the season on Thursday.

“There’s no substitute [for] being out on the course,” Failla said. “They’re ready to get it done.

“It’s fair to say we’re very fortunate to play at Cherry Creek. It’s a good course and they’re very supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

That has allowed the Blue Waves to work on their putting.

“The majority of our practices and drills are spent around the green,” Failla said. “It’s the best way to knock off strokes. That’s good advice for all golfers.”

Riverhead’s golf team is in its fifth season, having won twice last year.

“We’re looking to improve on that,” Failla said. “It’s exciting. The future is bright for Riverhead golf.”

04/18/11 11:13am
04/18/2011 11:13 AM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead Coach Steve Failla and his Blue Waves posed during a photo session before a recent practice.

The sun couldn’t be seen. It was about 40 degrees outside and the wind was gusting by the putting green at Cherry Creek Golf Links, the home course for the Riverhead High School girls golf team. It was definitely a hot chocolate day.

Hot chocolate is not only the drink of choice for the Blue Waves, but it is what keeps them going during those bitter, raw days of early spring.

Coach Steve Failla uses hot chocolate as a motivating tool for his players during those cold practices. The heated beverage warms their spirits and does its small part in helping to build a program that is barely out of its infancy.

Progress is coming slowly but surely for Riverhead, which is in its fourth varsity season. Rich Gebhardt started the team three years ago. Failla took over the reigns this year, following Gebhardt’s retirement.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead freshman Jackie Hulse did not seem pleased with a putt.

The first thing the Blue Waves learned about varsity golf is that wins don’t come easily. Riverhead was winless in its first two seasons and went 2-34 in its first three years.

Aysha Ozyilmaz, a junior who is the only remaining member of Riverhead’s first varsity team, said Riverhead is in a better situation than it was four years ago when half of the players had never played golf before. “It was hard at first because I really didn’t know what I was doing, but it was exciting, though, to learn a completely new sport,” she said.

Failla said the playing experience on this year’s team varies, but most of the Blue Waves have been golfing for two to three years.

“We learn from each other,” Ozyilmaz said. “We progress every year. It was hard the first couple of years, but now we’re really getting it together.”

And these Blue Waves are young. Ozyilmaz is the only upperclassman among them. Her teammates consist of four sophomores (Corey Gianuzzi, Catherine Brophy, Rebecca Merker and Carina Oliva) and four freshmen (Kaylee Wells, Jackie Hulse, Erin Kealey and Karyn Torre).

The odds are stacked against them. They have their hands full, competing against more established teams from Mount Sinai, Ward Melville, Sachem East, Sachem North and Longwood.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” Failla said. “You have to have patience, and you know what? They show up every day and they want to get better and they work at it.”

Although a win has eluded them this season, they have already made improvements. They lost their first three Suffolk County League III matches. Despite falling to the defending league champion Mount Sinai Mustangs, 8-1 and 7-2, Riverhead’s starters took 27 strokes off their game in the rematch. Hulse went from an 83 to a 57 in 24 hours. Last Wednesday Riverhead lost, 7-2, to the Sachem East Flaming Arrows.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Ashya Ozyilmaz, a junior, is Riverhead's only upperclassman as well as the only remaining player from the school's original varsity team.

Failla, however, sees encouraging signs for the future. Riverhead doesn’t have a middle school or junior varsity team to develop players, but that may change down the line.

“We have quite a few girls in the middle school who are interested in playing, so the numbers are going to grow,” said Failla, who plans to run an intramural league when the season ends. “If we keep them playing together, the sky’s the limit. I believe that.”

It’s a fun-loving group, whether it be joking around during a team photo session or trying to talk Failla into letting them drive a golf cart (“We all dream about that,” said Kealey.)

“I love this team,” Hulse said. “I love everybody on it. There’s never a bad time. Everywhere we go, we just bring the fun with us.”

It may take a while before wins start piling up on a regular basis, and getting to drive a golf cart may not be in the near future, but there is something the Blue Waves can always count on to warm their thoughts.

Said Hulse, “There’s always hot chocolate.”

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03/29/11 1:32pm
03/29/2011 1:32 PM

When Coach Steve Failla says the Riverhead High School girls golf team is young, he isn’t exaggerating.

The Blue Waves have no seniors and only one upperclassman returning, junior Aysha Ozymaz, who will be surrounded mostly by freshmen.

Failla, who took over for the retired Rich Gebhart, inherits a team that finished 2-8 in Suffolk County League III last year. But he hasn’t allowed that to diminish his enthusiasm or optimism entering a new season.

“Last year’s team, they weren’t very successful,” he said. “”You know what? We have a nice core returning. It’s really up and coming at Riverhead.

“We’re probably going to be starting four or five freshmen on any one day.”

Failla said he expects freshmen Kaylee Wells and Jackie Hulse to anchor the Blue Waves because they “worked very hard on their games in the off-season.”

Erin Kealy and Karyn Torre are other ninth-graders that Failla also expects to start.

“The remainder of the team will be battling for the final spots,” he said.

During the preseason, Failla has stressed to his team to work on fundamentals rather than worry about scores.

“They’ve looked good in practice,” he said. “Everyone has showed at one time or another a lot of potential in the game. We’re not keeping score out there.

“Our goal is to continue to grow, both individually and as a team, improve every day and have fun.”

The Blues Waves’ strengths are in numbers, said Failla, who has been encouraged that 11 girls tried out for the team. If he had more than 12, he would have had to make some cuts.

“Our numbers are growing,” he said. “There seems to be a little buzz and momentum in our program now.”

Failla said the Blue Waves’ biggest challenge is to put last year behind them and not let the little things bother the golfers.

“Golf is not a game that is neither won or lost,” he said. “It is played. You hit a bad shot, you have to have the confidence not to let it get to you. We have to be strong enough to handle it.”
The Blue Waves will find out soon enough. They will meet the Mount Sinai Mustangs in their League III opener at Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead on Tuesday.

“We’re so young,” Failla said. “I think there’s a bright future for these girls if they stay with it.”

Failla said he has reminded his players that learning golf could come in handy later on.

“I’ve coached quite a few sports,” he said. “Golf is a pretty unique sport. Golf is a sport you’ll play the rest of your life. A lot of business gets done on the golf course.”