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06/21/2022 12:00 AM

Hornets Keep Moving Up the Leaderboard

Senior captain Justin Acquarulo and the Branford boys’ golf team had an outstanding campaign by finishing with a record of 17-1 while winning the SCC Division II title this spring. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

By virtue of winning the SCC Division II title this year, the Branford boys’ golf team will be moving up to the Division I level for the 2023 season. With many of the team’s golfers returning, Head Coach Jen Kohut is hoping that the Hornets will carry their momentum into next year and prove they belong among the conference’s top squads.

Branford finished with an overall record of 17-1 during the regular season this spring. The Hornets’ lowest round of the season came with a 156-249 road win versus Hillhouse on May 4. Coach Kohut was impressed with her team’s performance throughout the year and felt that every golfer displayed great growth in their game.

One day prior to facing Hillhouse, the Hornets hosted Guilford and notched a 167-169 victory at Pine Orchard Country Club. Guilford went on to have one of its golfers, freshman Andrew Beauton, finish in first place at the State Open Championship at the end of the season. Kohut said that Branford showed just how strong of a team it is by defeating the Division I Grizzlies in that matchup.

“The Guilford match was huge. We wound up beating a team who had the eventual State Open champion,” Kohut said. “It was a big win. The kids really played well that day.”

This season, Branford competed at the SCC’s Division II level with Wilbur Cross, Hillhouse, Sheehan, Jonathan Law, North Haven, Lyman Hall, East Haven, and Foran. The Hornets won every match that they played against those competitors on their way to claiming the divisional crown. Now, Branford will be competing in the Division I ranks next year, and Kohut said that the Hornets are embracing the challenge.

“It meant a lot. We’ve now moved up to Division I,” said Kohut. “That’s our eventual goal, to get up there with the top teams.”

By winning Division II, Branford qualified for this year’s SCC Championship. The Hornets competed in the meet at Farms Country Club on June 1 and finished in eighth place with a team score of 339. Senior captain Justin Acquarulo and junior captain Keegan LaLonde both scored a 79 to finish in a tie for ninth place on their way to garnering All-SCC accolades. Junior Mike Farricielli posted a score of 90, junior Colin Deane finished with a 91, and sophomore Matt Morgan carded a 93 for the Hornets.

The SCC Championship is an 18-hole event. This year, it was hosted at a course on which Branford had only played the front nine. Coach Kohut said participating in SCCs helped show the Hornets where they were at and what they would need to do to succeed in the upcoming state meet.

“Sometimes it’s a bit of an eye-opener. You’re playing 18 holes instead of nine. We had never played the back nine at The Hills before,” Kohut said. “You saw what the kids were made of. It got them ready for the State Tournament.”

This year’s Division II State Championship took place Tallwood Golf Club on June 6. The Hornets improved upon their score from the SCCs meet by recording a team total of 337 en route to placing seventh out of 17 teams in states.

LaLonde led the way for Branford by scoring an 80 to finish in a tie for 12th place. Acquarulo was next in line with an 82 to finish tied for 15th place. After making All-SCC, LaLonde and Acquarulo were both named to the All-State Team. Deane finished in a tie for 27th place by carding a score of 87 at the meet. Farricielli finished in a tie for 32nd place with an 88, and Morgan scored an 89 to finish in a tie for 35th place.

In order for Branford have a successful season, Coach Kohut said that every member of the Hornets had to earn their spot in the lineup. There was always competition on the roster to see who would comprise Branford’s final five that participated in the matches. Kohut said that the competition inspired everyone on the club to push each other to perform to their potential and, ultimately, made each golfer on the Hornets that much stronger.

“That first day, when we met out on the range, everyone was a little nervous. We had a big group and had to make cuts to get down to our final 12,” said Kohut. “It was a daily battle to see who would be playing in the top five. One and two were always solid, but after that, the guys really had to work hard to earn their spot each match. The competitive aspect is important. You have to play well every day.”

Amidst that competition, Branford was led by Acquarulo and LaLonde in the captain’s role this season. At the conclusion of the campaign, both golfers were selected as Branford’s co-Most Valuable Players. LaLonde wound up qualifying for the State Open and finished in a tie for 15th place with a score of 81 at the Black Hall Club on June 11.

Coach Kohut said that it was rare for her to see two golfers achieve the amount of success of Branford’s captains this year. In addition to their efforts on the links, Kohut described Acquarulo and LaLonde as great leaders who always kept the Hornets moving forward.

“This was the first time in five years that I had two All-State players on the same team in the same season. They just showed what a great golfer is. It gave the other kids something to aspire to,” Kohut said. “They did a great job of organizing the team. They took on that role, and the kids on the team knew what the expectations were.”

Aside from Acquarulo, everyone who competed at the State Championship will be back for Branford next year. That includes Morgan, who won the team’s Most Improved Player Award, and Farricielli, who was presented with the Newcomer Award. Coach Kohut is encouraging all of her players to participate in tournaments outside the high school season in order to continue improving their skills.

The Hornets’ improvement will be crucial when they compete as an SCC Division I team next season. Coach Kohut said that rising up to Division I has always been Branford’s goal. On the heels of an exceptional campaign, Kohut feels confident that the Hornets ready to compete at the highest level in 2023.

“We want to be a contender in Division I,” Kohut said. “In the beginning of the season, our scores were ahead of some of the teams in Division I. We want to compete with those top teams.”

The Branford golf team’s roster features senior captain Justin Acquarulo; senior Ava Brunner; junior captain Keegan LaLonde; juniors Carter Burgess, Colin Deane, Michael Farricielli, Matt Morgan, and Andrew Verzella; sophomores Devin Gwiazda, Patrick LaLonde, and Joe Robinson; and freshman Antonio Esperti.

Junior captain Keegan LaLonde earned All-SCC and All-State honors alongside senior teammate Justin Acquarulo for the recent season, in addition to winning a share of the Hornets’ MVP Award with Acquarulo. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound
Junior Colin Deane is one of several solid golfers who be returning for Branford when the team competes at the SCC Division I level in the 2023 campaign. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound