By Ryan Nagelhout
NIAGARA FALLS —
Niagara Falls High School was conveniently built an iron-shot away from Hyde Park Golf Course.
Wolverines coach Jack Pero says his team has made the most of its close proximity to its home course this summer and is ready to turn around a golf team that finished at the bottom of the Niagara Frontier League last fall.
“It’s unbelievable. They’re all out here constantly playing 18 holes a day. Then they’re chipping and putting and they’re out at the range again and having putting games,” Pero said. “They come in and they have lunch and they go back out.”
Niagara Falls graduated captain Greg Bullock, Adam Grana and Mitch Fura from a squad that struggled to compete with the likes of Kenmore East and Niagara-Wheatfield last season, but Pero said a strong pair of sophomores will lead the Wolverines this fall. That duo, James Spanbauer and Jeremiah Gamble, have put in plenty of time on the links this summer and have made big strides.
“I have a bunch of sophomores, so that’s good,” Pero said. “We can rebuild and hopefully everybody does their part and in the big picture we get a bunch of wins.”
Spanbauer won the Hyde Park junior golf tournament in August, while Gamble finished second.
“It’s great to go out and watch these guys play,” Pero said. “You see them last year and how they improve leaps and bounds from one year to the next. It’s unbelievable.”
Spencer Ventresca, a junior, will also see plenty of time in the top eight for the Wolverines, who sport a smaller squad this year. Inexperience means a few Falls golfers seeing head-to-head play for the first time, and Pero said a planned scrimmage against Niagara Catholic was canceled when the Patriots squad folded.
“I hope we’re really going to do much better than last year,” Pero said. “I always expect great things from these kids, hopefully they’ll improve and get more wins than last year.”
Niagara-Wheatfield loses sectional qualifier Jordan Matos and Anthony Schiro to graduation this fall, but with a pair of sectional qualifiers remaining the Falcons hope a repeat of their 18-3 record last season is well within reach.
“We’ve got a good number of our starters returning this year and they’ve played a ton since our season ended,” Falcons coach Tim Codd said. “I‘m looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
Three-time sectional qualifier Alex Kammerer returns for his senior season, and Codd said this could be the year he finally breaks through for the Section VI crown.
“I’ve got some high expectations for him along with the other guys he plays with,” Codd said. “He qualified for states two years ago and not qualifying last year, I think has really sort of pushed him. He wants to have a good season this fall.
“I know he’s got his own high expectations for himself and he knows what he has to do,” Codd said.
Joining him in black and red is two-time sectional qualifier Billy Lumadue, also a senior this fall. Senior Dillon Hayes and junior Nick Matos round off the top for the Falcons, who lost all three matches against Kenmore East last fall.
The Falcons play their home matches at Tan Tara Country Club.
First-year coach Jason Lesh takes over as athletic director Scott Townsend steps away from coaching. Townsend departs after coaching two straight Section VI golf champions, with Matt Petrosian winning in 2010 and Mike Boss conquering Diamond Hawk this spring.
Lesh doesn’t expect a third straight sectional winner to lurk on the Lancers roster this year, but he’s excited for the challenge as a head coach.
“High school sports is what it is,” he said. “Kids come and go all the time so you do the best you can with what you have. Being my first year I don’t really know how well we’re going to do but we’ll try our best.”
Senior David James and sophomore Joe Laurendi will take the reigns as top linksters for the Lancers, while senior Jake Ventry and sophomore Justin Quinn will also start for Lew-Port. Lesh hopes his two sophomores can develop into top-flight golfers with another year of experience.
“Laurendi and Quinn are young guys on the team starting with lots of potential for growth,” he said.
Lesh said the rest of the Lancers group is very young, but as a rookie coach this year he’ll be learning along with them.
“I have a really strong golf background, so the only thing I’m really learning to do is figure out what I have to do during matches,” Lesh said.
Lew-Port plays its home matches as Niagara Frontier Country Club.
The Vikings lose Brian Brink and Andrew Gugino from a team that went 6-15 in NFL play last year.
Second team all-NFL golfer Aaron Schauger returns for his junior year, but Vikings coach Craig Warthling says his team will be very green this fall.
“A few kids went to other sports,” Warthling said, “So I have four or five 11th graders trying out for the first time.”
That means plenty of room for growth, and sophomores Kevin Borowicz and Kurtis Johnson will see big roles early for Grand Island.
Freshman Tim Corrao will also feature in the eight-man rotation for Grand Island, who plays its matches at River Oaks.