With off to prep school and only one returning senior on the team, the 2011 edition of the Tewksbury Memorial High School golf team will rely heavily on its junior class this fall.
and Mike Casey, both juniors, will be the No. 1 and 2 players on the team, while classmates Patrick Doherty, and Sean Thomann will also figure in a starting line-up that includes only one senior.
"We graduated five out of our eight starters, and most of them had been playing for at least two years," "So we're going to be counting heavily on some younger guys to step up and improve their game."
Four other starters -- Craig Semenza, Mark Petti, Ryan Casey and Brian Donohue -- graduated along with Doherty, who was a three time Merrimack Valley Conference all-conference selection during his career.
The lone senior returning to the team is Pat Grinley, while sophomore Jeff Giasullo and freshman Ryan Meade round out the starting line-up. Juniors Dan Petrie, Eric Hunter and Ryan Muise, and sophomore Zack Strahan complete the 12-man varsity roster.
The team opened its season with a 12-8 non-league win over North Reading at home at on Thursday, and so far, the junior class has stepped up and played like elder statesmen. Slavin, was two-down (and two over par) in his match through six holes, but he closed like a grizzled veteran. Slavin turned the match around with an Eagle three on the par five seventh hole, then parred out on eight and nine to win his match one up. Slavin carded an even par 36 for the match.
"It was a big win," Sullivan said of Slavin. "Not so much because of the score -- he's capable of doing that every day. But he was two-down after six and he turned it around when he needed to. The Eagle on seven really got him going and I think it rattled the other kid."
Slavin's playing partner, Mike Casey, lost one down, but the pair took the best ball point to put Tewksbury up, 3-2.
In the second group, Patrick Doherty stepped up big, carding a 40 and winning his match easily, four and three. Playing partner Derek Petti lost one-down, but the pair took the best ball point to put Tewksbury up 6-4.
"Pat's 40 is a very competitive score out of the three position," Sullivan said. "We'll need him to continue that type of play for us to be competitive in the MVC."
Tewksbury nailed down its first win of the season when the third pairing of Giasullo and Grinley swept all five points in their match. Giasullo won big, four and two, and Grinley prevailed one-up on the final hole. The TMHS pair also took the best ball point.
"This was a huge match for us," Sullivan said. "Both Jeff and Pat were playing in their first varsity matches after very successful junior varsity seasons last year."
In the final pairing, Thomann lost, three and one, and Meade played to a draw.
Sullivan and co-coach Ron Drouin classified the win as a "good first step" toward the team's goal of qualifying for its third consecutive state tournament. The MVC has realigned the golf league into three divisions, with Tewksbury competing against Methuen and Dracut in its division. Because of the realignment, the Redmen can make the state tournament by winning 10 matches or by virtue of the complicated Sullivan rule. Winning their division won't help.
"Three out of our top four guys played in almost every (varsity) match last year, so those guys should be able to keep their heads above water," Sullivan said. "But after that we're real young and real inexperienced. We're gonna need some of the younger guys to come along over the course of the season. But if they do, we'll be all right."