T-Birds See a Tremendous Turnaround on the Greens
Four years ago, the North Branford boys’ golf team finished with a record of 0-10 and was at the bottom of the Shoreline Conference. With strong leadership from their seniors and the emergence of two underclassmen, the Thunderbirds have made a meteoric rise and are now one of the top teams in the league.
North Branford continued its strong season by earning road victories over Old Lyme and Maloney last week. The T-Birds have a record of 10-1-2 as they get ready to compete in this week’s Shoreline Conference Championship meet.
North Branford started off last week by claiming a 181-196 win against Old Lyme in a road match at the Black Hall Club on May 17. Sophomore Jack O’Brien shot a 43 to lead the T-Birds to the victory. Senior captain Dakota Cooper and freshman Robert Cappella both carded a score of 44 in the contest. Senior Jalen Rossicone shot a 50, and senior captain Blake Pearson finished with a score of 51.
By defeating Old Lyme, North Branford remained in second place in the league standings heading into the Shoreline Conference Championship. While there was some added pressure in the match, Head Coach Andrew DaCorte felt happy that the Thunderbirds stayed composed and maintained their second-place standing as the postseason approaches.
“We had played at Black Hall twice before, so the kids were pretty familiar with it. We needed to win to stay second place in the conference heading into the Shoreline Championship,” Coach DaCorte said. “There was a little pressure on the match. They came out and shot well enough to win, which is always good.”
The T-Birds finished the week with 177-186 road win over non-conference opponent Maloney at Hunter Golf Club on May 18. Cappella posted North Branford’s low score with a 40 on the afternoon. O’Brien shot a 45, Cooper and Pearson both recorded a score of 46, and Rossicone carded a 48 as the team picked up its 10th win of the year.
Alongside his role as North Branford’s head coach, DaCorte is also a history teacher at Maloney and knows everyone on the school’s golf team. DaCorte called it a friendly rivalry and said that it always feels great to get a win against people that you know.
Coach DaCorte feels that much of North Branford’s success this year stems from the leadership of the team’s two senior captains, Cooper and Pearson. Cooper is currently the Thunderbirds’ No. 2 golf, while Pearson slots in at the No. 4 spot. Both of them have been members of the starting lineup since they were freshmen.
DaCorte said that Cooper, who made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team last season, has a chance to replicate this feat this year. DaCorte added that the senior features a strong shot and has been a key part of North Branford’s foundation since day one.
Coach DaCorte said that Pearson is a player who everyone on the team counts on. North Branford’s coach called Pearson a reliable athlete who has the respect of each one of his teammates.
North Branford’s senior class also features Rossicone and Ryan Monde, who have split time with junior Drew Girardi at the No. 5 spot in the lineup. Like the captains, Rossicone and Monde have both been regular members of the lineup since their freshmen years. DaCorte said that both players are strong golfers and even better role models who always do the right thing.
When DeCorte entered the program, the Thunderbirds were typically shooting team scores in the 220s. Now, led by a group of seniors who have powered through and improved their scores, the North Branford golf squad has completely turned the corner on the course.
“When they were freshmen, they played every single match and they were shooting in the 220s,” said DaCorte. “Now seniors, three play almost every match, and now we’re shooting in the high 170s, low 180s. They have dropped strokes significantly for them to get into that position.”
The T-Birds’ rise up the ranks of the Shoreline Conference has also been aided by the play of two underclassmen in O’Brien and Cappella. O’Brien is currently the No. 1 golfer in the lineup, and Cappella competes out of the No. 3 spot.
O’Brien earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors as a freshman last season. With O’Brien ranked as one of the top-10 golfers in the conference this year, Coach DaCorte believes that the sophomore is in a good position to make All-Shoreline again.
Cappella moved to North Branford from Hamden prior to this season. DaCorte said that the freshman has made an immediate impact and become a steady presence for the T-Birds by consistently shooting between 40 and 45. Freshman Jack Monde is also a member of the squad.
O’Brien, Cooper, and Cappella are helping to set the tone as the top three golfers in North Branford’s lineup. Coach DaCorte said their play has been vital to the team’s success and that each member of the trio has a shot to receive All-Conference accolades this spring.
“They have been absolutely huge. Dakota is like our rock. Jack has gotten exponentially better every round he has played. He expects greatness, and he can definitely achieve that,” DaCorte said. “Robert has come in and solidified the middle of the lineup. You can always count on 45 and under from him, which will set us up great every round.”
When O’Brien joined the team last year, Cooper and Pearson gave him a sense of what to expect as a high school golfer. When Cappella hopped aboard this year, all the seniors helped him acclimated to the high school level after he moved to a new town. Coach DaCorte feels that this type of attitude has helped North Branford turn things around as the T-Birds have now played their way into a situation where they are a legitimate contender for the Shoreline Conference title. However, no matter what happens the rest of the way this year, DaCorte is proud about what his team is achieving on the greens and feels that his seniors have unquestionably cemented their legacy in the program.
“Those four seniors have set the culture and expectations of our program. They finished 0-10 in the Shoreline as freshmen, dead last. Now, with some good golf, they can go out as champions,” said DaCorte. “It’s an incredible rise for them. The family camaraderie amongst all eight players is incredible. Even if we don’t win the Shoreline championship, the four seniors have left a lasting legacy in North Branford to bring it to where it is now.”