To hear Paul Ellwood describe it, his Mattituck High School boys golf team is no longer the favorite to walk off with the Suffolk County League VII championship. This season, he said, Riverhead is the “clear favorite” on paper and Mattituck is the hunter.
And that’s despite the fact that Mattituck went a perfect 10-0 last year, producing a team-record fourth straight league championship. The Tuckers went on to finish second — two strokes behind Westhampton Beach — in the Conference IV Tournament and seventh in the Section XI Championship.
But Ellwood, who brought an 89-7-1 record into his ninth year as the team’s coach, points out that the current Mattituck team isn’t as deep as last year’s squad was and Riverhead looks like a team on the rise. Sure, Mattituck defeated second-place Riverhead twice last year, but they were separated by a mere four and five strokes in those matches.
Having said that, Mattituck still has the ability to make its drive for five a success. The Tuckers entered this season on a 22-match winning streak, having gone 57-4 over the previous five years.
“We have an advantage, I think, in tight matches in that we’d have the experience of always winning them,” Ellwood said. “You need a little luck in those matches.”
And having a player like Chris Talbot doesn’t hurt, either. The All-County senior finished 18th in the county tournament and had a 38.37 nine-hole average. His career record is 35-1-1.
Ellwood said it’s tough to read Talbot’s body language to figure out whether he’s up or down. “He’s steady and he doesn’t let bad shots get him down,” the coach said of the four-year lineup player. “His greatest attribute is his experience. He falls back on that when times get difficult.”
The other returning lineup players are All-League sophomore Matt Seifert (40.62), senior Parker Sheppard (44.30), junior Connor Fox (45.22) and sophomore Evan McCaffrey (43.72).
Ellwood said Seifert can drive the ball further than he did a year ago. “He makes courses shorter and it’s always a lot easier to hit wedges into greens than 7-irons,” said Ellwood.
Ellwood has never had a seventh-grader on his team before, but that changed with the addition of Andrew McKenzie, the North Fork Country Club’s junior champion. Junior Dilon Kapustka and senior Tyler Shuford are also new to the team.
Ellwood said this could be the first time in 20 years that Mattituck or Eastport-South Manor doesn’t win the League VII title.
Has it been wearing being a perennial league champion?
Ellwood said it hasn’t, pointing out that his teams have remained grounded.
“We don’t let the day-to-day stuff get us down,” he said. “We know there are going to be days we struggle … We don’t succumb to pressure because we don’t really put a lot of pressure on ourselves.”
Look to the future.
That is exactly what Greenport/Southold coach Jeff Ellis is doing.
The First Settlers (0-10) have eight golfers. Two of them are first-year seniors; the rest are underclassmen.
“We’ve got a couple of years with these guys,” said Ellis, who is in his second year running the team. “It’s fun because I think they’re all into golf, which is good. Golf’s a different animal from other sports because it’s just so tough every day to be consistent and score.”
Three juniors — James Hayes, Ben Ward and Matt Messana — were in the lineup last year. “They’ve gotten so much stronger,” said Ellis. Another junior, Matt Mullen, bounced back and forth between the varsity and junior varsity teams. The newcomers are seniors Justin Eckhardt and Will Dickerson and sophomore Dave Okula.
“The good thing is of our top six, five of them are all around the same scores,” Ellis said. “Now we just need a couple of guys to step up and really want to be that number one or number two player.”
“I’m not worrying about the wins and losses,” he said. “I just want them to improve.”
Photo caption: All-County senior Chris Talbot scored a 38.37 nine-hole average with an 8-2 record last year for four-time League VII champion Mattituck. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)