SARANAC LAKE - One mission accomplished and one more to go.
After capturing first place during Champlain Valley Athletic Conference regular-season with a perfect 10-0 record, Saranac Lake's golfers will look to claim a team title Thursday in the opening round of the Section VII Championship tournament at the Westport Country Club.
It marked the second straight year the Red Storm golfers have gone on to finish the regular season unbeaten, but the bigger prize of a sectional crown has eluded the team since 2008. With all six golfers averaging 44 strokes or less in each nine-hole round this spring, the title is there for the taking if Saranac Lake's top six if continue their consistent play.
Members of Saranac Lake’s 2012 Champlain Valley Athletic Conference championship golf team gather for a photo on their home course in Ray Brook. First row, from left: Gina Fiorile, Carley Sawyer, Sarah Parker, Emily Fountain, Ellen Miner and Rachel Dalton. Second row: Carl Bevilacqua, Ethan Sawyer, Robert Webb, Joe Atkinson, Austin Ecret, Shawn Snyder, Tyler Rondeau, Ryan Murray and Dustin Fischer. Third row: Coach Jim Hayden, Chance Hobbs, Collin Shipman, Max Paul, Guy Grebe, Jazzmyn Tuthill, Marisa Farmer, Kyle Dora, Blake Gregory, Anuj Prajapati, Dan Strack and Coach Chris Stevens. Fourth row: Teddy Yanchitis, Matt Clark, Harley Stankus and Devin Darrah.
First-year head coach Chris Stevens, who switched positions this spring with Jim Hayden, who is now the squad's assistant, said playing in the sectional tournament is much different than competing in the regular season.
"Playing 18 holes is a lot tougher than playing nine," Stevens said. "It's a lot more demanding. We've had some lopsided wins, but we've also had some really tight matches. If our guys have an off day and the guys on some other teams start playing well, we could potentially be in trouble. But if our guys keep playing the way they have been, the championship is ours to win.
"We will have to play well because there are some other good teams out there," Stevens added. "Plattsburgh, Peru - those are two good teams from our league, and I heard Elizabethtown has a good team, too."
The Section VII Championships will be played Thursday and Friday, with the opening round determining the team champion while setting the field for the second round of 18 to determine the section's individual champion and the make-up of the squad representing Section VII at the state championships at Cornell University. Approximately one-third of the field from Thursday's opening round will make the cut to play on Friday.
A year ago at the sectional tournament, all six Saranac Lake golfers advanced to the second round while finishing runner-up to Plattsburgh in the team competition. However, no Saranac Lake golfers on this season's team earned that coveted trip to the state championships. Two seniors who graduated in 2011, Michael Phelan and Pat McHugh, were the Red Storm golfers who did make it to Cornell.
For seniors Kyle Dora, Devin Darrah and captain Matt Clark, it's the final chance to reach the state tournament playing at Saranac Lake. They are all in the Red Storm's top six, along with Dustin Fischer, Ethan Sawyer and Blake Gregory.
Fischer, a sophomore, finished with the lowest average for Saranac Lake at 38.4 strokes per nine holes. Just a freshman, Sawyer was next with a 39.9 average. Darrah was third at 43.2, Dora had a 43.76 average, Gregory finished at 43.8 and Clark's average was 44.
If any Saranac Lake players want to claim individual championships at Westport, they'll will have to hold off the likes of AuSable Valley senior John Hickey, last year's defending champion, and Plattsburgh's Ethan Votraw, a senior with state tournament experience.
Regardless of how Saranac Lake finishes, the school's golf program appears to be in good hands for seasons to come. Fischer, Sawyer and Gregory are expected to return to the team next season, and behind them, there are plenty golfers who have climbing the ranks this spring.
In addition to showing talent on the golf course, Saranac Lake's golfers have been getting the job done in the classroom. Of the 27 players on the roster, 17 are honor students who have a combined 94.561 grade point average.