Southern Golf Team Often on the Green Despite Being Green
Much has been written in the past decade about two of Southern Regional High School’s outstanding athletic programs: its wrestling and volleyball teams. They have been, after all, perennial contenders for state championships, indeed, sometimes reaching the Promised Land.
There is another Southern program that has maintained a high standard of success as well over the past several years: the boys golf team. Yet high school golf isn’t exactly a spectator sport, so the team’s excellence has been hidden under the table. It is time to rectify that situation.
Southern’s boys golf team reached the pinnacle of its success in 2002, when it captured a New Jersey State Group IV Championship, under head coach Bill Hamersky. He’s moved on, and his assistant, Jeffrey Reilly, took over the team in 2005. The team has not been able to claim any more state honors since then but it has remained a force in the Shore Conference.
“Last year we went 16-10, playing a very difficult schedule, and we won our division” Reilly told The SandPaper. “In 2010 we went 20-6, and also won a share of the division title.”
That said, the team just couldn’t seem to put it all together since 2002.
“Our team has been very solid for a long time but we just never seemed to have four guys play their best golf on the same day in the big tournaments,” said Reilly.
The team’s play in the Ocean County Tournament provides a vivid example.
“We have always been close in the county tournament,” said Reilly. “We’ve been in the Top 3 every year since 2006 and have finished second three times, but we had not won the Ocean County Tournament.”
In fact, the last time the Rams emerged as Ocean County champs was back in that fabled year 2002. Until this year, that is.
In April the boys pulled off a shocker at the county tourney.
“Winning the title this year was a bit of a surprise,” said Reilly, “because we are somewhat inexperienced and we had graduated our best player from the 2011 team, in Conner O’Brien.”
It wasn’t easy. No less than 17 teams were represented in the tourney, with 85 golfers taking the links at Little Egg Harbor’s Sea Oaks Golf Club. When the dust settled, Southern won by one stroke over Pt. Pleasant Boro, 345 to 346.
“That is correct,” said Reilly, “one shot separated the two teams over the course of the entire tournament!”
Since then the team’s success has continued. Going into a Tuesday afternoon match versus Central Regional, Reilly’s charges had racked up a 12-5 record, qualified for the Group IV South Jersey State Tournament to be held on May 14, and is once again fighting it out for an A South divisional crown. Rather amazing for a “somewhat inexperienced” bunch.
“We are having an excellent season because we have a group of kids that are working very hard,” said Reilly. “They love to play golf and they like being a team. We have had contributions from 10 players to our varsity lineup. The primary varsity lineup consists of two seniors, Connor Devaney and Brennan Connolly; a junior, Mike Chiodi; and two freshmen, Jackson Fiel and Chase Clark. Junior Ryan Berry and senior Chris Siberry have also been consistent varsity performers.”
Devaney and Connolly, as their results in the Ocean County Tournament show, have been the team’s leaders. Devaney, who will be attending – and golfing – at North Carolina’s Belmont Abbey College next fall, shot an 80 in the OCT, tying him for second place; Connolly, who will be off to Drexel University, finished in a tie for eighth with his 86.
However, the contributions of the team’s underclassmen have been significant. Clark, who, it must be restated, is a mere freshman, tied for 18th at the county tournament after posting a score of 88. Fiel, his classmate, has played in every varsity match this spring and has actually managed the best nine-hole average of any of the Rams, a 41.
Which means, of course, that the Southern boys golf program should keep rolling along, even after the departure of Devaney and Connolly.
“It is a nice feeling, as a coach, to see a lineup that has a balance between different grade levels,” said Reilly. “We were able to get some great leadership from our seniors – Connor and Brennan are excellent leaders and set a great example for all players in our program. Obviously, having talent in the ninth grade brings an added level of competitiveness to our team. The freshmen also bring great enthusiasm and the hope that our program will continue to be strong in the coming years.
“The other nice component of this year’s team is that they all like and respect each other. There is good camaraderie between the guys in the program, and that has helped them perform at a high level.”
What else is new? After all, if you are a member of the Southern Regional boys golf team, like the school’s wrestling and volleyball squads, a high level of performance is almost expected.