Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By Tom Chard email@example.com
GORHAM - Josh Hogan, the University of Southern Maine golf captain, smiles when he talks about how the program has changed in his three seasons.
"In the past, we wouldn't have all five players breaking 80," said Hogan. "Now, anyone in the top five can break 80. We have a bunch of guys who have connected. We have more team spirit than the last two years. We do things outside of golf."
The USM golfers are breaking 80 for 18 holes and winning tournaments with regularity.
In nine tournaments against varying sized fields, the Huskies have won five.
Two weeks ago the Huskies won the Maine Intercollegiate Championship at Val Halla in Cumberland, beating nine schools.
The other benchmark for college golf is a team score under 300 (counting four scores). The Huskies have done that five times.
The team is preparing for the Great North Atlantic Conference championships Oct. 20-21 in Sutton, Mass. If the Huskies win, they would take part in the Division III national tournament next May in Destin, Fla.
"This is the deepest team I've had by far," said Coach Reggie Grant, in his 12th season. "When a team can crack 300, you have some skilled golfers. For most of them, golf is their main sport."
That wasn't always the case.
Sean Bergeron of Kennebunk, who plays at No. 5, is a former basketball player for the Huskies, who returned to golf after two knee injuries. Bergeron played in high school.
Justin Villacci, who plays on the Huskies' second team, was a football standout at Gorham High and went to the University of Maine to play football. He stayed in Orono for two years before returning home.
Aaron Bailey of York and A.J. Simokaitis of Falmouth started at other schools.
Of the top five players, Hogan and Aidan Boyce of South Portland are the only ones who started at USM, and Boyce took a year off last season to concentrate on his studies.
"We've been like a melting pot," said Simokaitis. "We've come together from other schools and other sports. I played last year and this year is a lot different.
"We have a lot of team depth. Anyone can shoot a low score. We don't have to rely on one or two golfers."
Simokaitis spent a semester at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., saying the school wasn't the right match.
Bailey, another top-five player, went to Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., on a golf scholarship before deciding to transfer to USM.
"It was a smart decision," said Bailey.
It's certainly nothing new for students and, to a greater degree athletes, to wind up at USM after going elsewhere after high school.
"I think athletes in general don't look in their backyard for college," said Grant.
For local high school golfers looking to play in college, Grant points to the Huskies' schedule.
"We have a comprehensive schedule compared to most Division III schools in New England," he said.
"We have 12 tournaments this fall with six of them being two-day events. That's 18 competitive rounds they get, plus we play several practice rounds. Golfers at USM get a tremendous Division III experience. We're looking to put USM on the map."
As evidence of the Huskies' depth, in the two-day USM Fall Classic that ended Monday at Gorham Country Club, USM's second team beat four teams in the tournament. There were nine other teams beside the Huskies' two teams.
Villacci shot 78-76-154 as part of the second team.
"I used to fool around with golf in high school with my friends," said Villacci.
"When I came to USM, I thought I would try out for the team. In high school I played in front of 10,000 in the Class A state football championship game and was never nervous because football came easy to me. Now trying to hit the fairway with people watching is something else."
The Huskies' first team placed third in their tournament behind the winner, Husson University, and Endicott College of Beverly, Mass.
"It may have been the strongest field I've assembled for a tournament," said Grant. "Four teams broke 600 in two days. In the final group there were only four shots separating USM, Husson and Endicott."
Playing in the final group in a college tournament was a new experience, said Hogan.
Jack Wyman of Falmouth, who plays for Endicott, was in the same group with Hogan, his high school teammate.
"Before, our goal as a team was to break 320 for a round. Now we're shooting to win the tournament. That was pretty cool," said Hogan.
Boyce said the Huskies have put in the time to improve.
"We're practicing or playing every day," he said.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
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