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Defending state champs back for round two

Varsity - 2010 Season
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by Westport News
 How can a high school team win a state championship and still not accomplish its top goal? When that team plays for top bragging rights among a collection of tough teams in the ultra competitive FCIAC. Such is the case for the Staples boys golf team after coming off its first state crown since 1997.

"That's definitely our top goal," junior captain Kirk Massie confirmed.

"I think it is," Wreckers Coach Tom Owen added. "I think if you were to talk to other coaches in the FCIAC they would agree."

Although the Wreckers went on to post a team total of 297 in the Division I tournament -- four strokes better than Simsbury and nine better than FCIAC competitor Greenwich -- Owen lamented about how his team was one stroke shy of joining the three-hole playoff with Greenwich and Wilton in the FCIAC tournament.

Still, the state title was far more than a consolation prize.

"It's a double-edged sword being state champions because everybody is out to beat you," Owen said, who is heading into his 20th season as Staples head coach. "I think with them it's staying humble and not letting it go to your head and not resting on those laurels from last year and go out and start fresh.

"The nice thing about last year's team is that they weren't thinking about winning state championships or FCIAC tournaments. They were just out there having a good time, playing hard, getting along and rooting for each other. And so I think they just need to keep their heads screwed on straight and not look back and just play the season like it's their first."

With Greenwich as the clear favorite in both the FCIAC and Division I state tournament, Staples might be able to fly under the radar a little more than most defending state champions.

"No one really thinks we'll do something crazy like what we did last year," Massie said.

For the Wreckers, the mother of success will be consistency. Although the team returns three players from its starting five spots, it lost two of its most consistent players in Charlie Knofla, who graduated last year, and Andrew Gai, who decided to focus on raising his collegiate appeal by playing in amateur tournaments throughout the year. Gai led Staples at the state tournament by sharing the top individual score of 70 with one other player.

"He was arguably the best player in the state last year, so that's a big void," Owen said of Gai.

The Wreckers will rely on senior captain Dylan Murray to help pick some of the slack left by Gai and Knofla. Murray, who will be playing Division I golf next year at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., has "got all the tools needed to be the fantastic high school golfer that he is," according to Owen, with a good balance between his long and short game.

Then there's Massie, the top talent in the junior class who registered a 74 in last year's state tournament. Sophomore Austin Alianiello, who shot a 77 in the state tournament as a freshman, rounds out the returning players.

"It's a nice mix of the senior leadership coming from Dylan and then you've got the younger kids who really look up to Dylan... and obviously they have some talent, so it's a really good core," Owen said.

The team's final two starting spots will be decided among a group of players who all have had small tastes of competing at the varsity level: juniors Brian Wolgast, Conor Mahoney, Eric Gallanty and Dustin Lowman, along with sophomore Sam Shafer.

Mahoney and Gallaty occupied those spots for the first two matches (both wins) but Owen said those spots could be rotated until someone secures them.

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