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HS golf preview: Wreckers feeling defensive

Posted Friday, April 01, 2011 by Norwalk Hour
 Tom Owen and the Staples High School boys golf program have waited a long time to enter a new season and be called "defending FCIAC champions."

Twenty-two seasons, to be exact. That's how long it had been since the Wreckers last won the FCIAC crown, in 1989 when they captured the third of their three straight league titles.

Hall of fame coach Joe Folino retired after that season and Owen, his assistant coach on that '89 team, took over as head coach in 1990.

And while Owen has guided the Staples golf program to three state championships, including the last two Division I crowns, he was still looking for that elusive FCIAC title.

That is until last season. After several near misses, the Wreckers finally gave their coach his first FCIAC championship and the right to call themselves "defending FCIAC champions" heading into the 2011 season.

They may not have to wait long to say it again, however. Most of last year's team that finished 17-1 returns. Dylan Murray, last year's top golfer and The Hour's All-Area MVP, graduated and is now playing in college.

But in a case of the rich getting richer, the Wreckers have replaced one standout golfer with another.

Andrew Gai, who was named all-state as a freshman and sophomore, and was expected to be the team's top player last year, didn't return to Staples for his junior year. Instead he signed up for an online school so he could concentrate on his golf game and play as many junior tournaments as possible.

The move paid off as Gai, who was named the Junior Player of the Year by the Metropolitan Golf Association in 2009, had a successful 2010 playing tournaments down south.

But he returned to Staples High School for his senior year and that's good news for the golf team. The Wreckers will certainly miss Murray. But with the addition of a player the caliber of Gai, who shot rounds of 70 at both the FCIAC and state championships as a sophomore, they should hardly miss a beat.

"Probably going into the season he should be the top, if not one of the top premier golfers in the state of Connecticut," Owen predicted. "But even if he was not here this year, I would have had confidence in the team we had coming back."

Indeed, the Wreckers return two all-state golfers in Kirk Massie and Austin Alianiello. Massie, the other senior co-captain with Gai, was also All-Central Division.

"He's a kid who has always peaks right at tournament time," Owen pointed out.

Alianiello, a junior, who's beginning his third season with the varsity, was All-FCIAC a year ago while he and Massie joined Murray on The Hour's All-Area team.

"Kirk and Austin have both been involved with two state championships teams, a state runner-up, and an FCIAC championship team," Owen noted. "Those three, Andrew, Kirk and Austin, are really the core guys. They all have experience and are battled tested."

Meanwhile, the remaining two spots in the starting five are between three kids. Senior Conor Mahoney got into 10 regular-season matches last year and played in both the FCIAC and state tournaments.

Junior Sam Shaffer played nine regular-season matches and also played in the state tournament, while senior Brian Wolgast played in the FCIAC tourney.

"It's a good problem to have," Owen said of which two will play varsity. "I see those three moving in and out of the lineup."

Whichever two it happens to be, paired with the 'Big Three,' this year's team appears to be very similar to last year's FCIAC and state championship club.

"On paper, it does look the same if not better," Owen agreed. "But golf is one of those games where on any given day anything can happen. If one or two of our kids have an off day and another team shoots lights out, we could be in trouble.

"That's going to be my job as coach, to make sure these kids are focused and don't get ahead of themselves. Everything we did last season is all behind us. This is a new season and we're definitely not taking anyone for granted. We're going to play every team like they're No. 1 in the state."

If they do, the Wreckers could very well be calling themselves "defending FCIAC champions" again next year at this time.

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