T-Birds Exceed Expectations on the Links
Freshman Jack O’Brien made a great debut on the varsity golf scene by earning All-SCC Second Team accolades for a T-Birds’ team that notched six wins and then performed well in its postseason meets this spring. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)
Dakota Cooper led the North Branford boys’ golf squad as a junior captain during the 2021 season. Cooper made the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team on behalf of the Thunderbirds. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)
Rising senior Blake Pearson is one of the athletes who helped the T-Birds make vast improvements on the golf course throughout the past few years. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)
With just six players on the roster and a year away from competition, North Branford boys’ golf Head Coach Andrew DaCorte didn’t know what to expect from the Thunderbirds on the links this spring. However, with a fourth-place finish at the Shoreline Conference Championship and a top-10 performance in the Division IV State Championship, Coach DaCorte feels that this year’s team exceeded expectations and that the T-Birds’ future is looking quite bright.
“Heading into the season, we didn’t know what to expect. I knew I was returning the four freshmen that started for me, and I knew they would be better. I just didn’t know how much better they had gotten,” said DaCorte. “I knew I had a freshman in Jack O’Brien. I had high hopes, and they exceeded my expectations.”
North Branford finished with a record of 6-6 for the regular season. Coach DaCorte said that the T-Birds went into the year looking to shoot scores lower than 200, and they would up doing that in all but two of their regular-season contests. In its second match of the year, North Branford shot a 198 at TPC River Highlands, a professional course. As the campaign went on, the T-Birds showed continual improvement and were able to accomplish all of their goals.
“We try to make goals each match. Our goal match one was to break 200. Their freshman year, they never accomplished it. We shot a 199,” DaCorte said. “Match two, we played at TPC. The only person who had played there was Jack. My expectation was to break 205. It’s a course professionals play. We shot a 198. We we’re off and running. We only went over 200 twice in the year.”
North Branford was ranked 6th entering the Shoreline Conference Championship and wanted to improve on that ranking. The Thunderbirds finished in fourth place with a team score of 368 for their 18-hole round at Stanley Golf Course. Junior captain Dakota Cooper finished in a tie for third place with a score of 78, while O’Brien was tied for seventh with an 83. Both players earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors.
“We wanted to get into the top half of the Shoreline Conference. We ended up 6th going into the Shoreline Tournament. We weren’t in the final group, which was a big advantage to us. It relieved the pressure on a lot of kids,” said DaCorte. “Our goal was to improve our position as best we could. Dakota shot his best round ever. He propelled us to finish fourth, which is amazing.”
The T-Birds finished their season by competing at the Division IV State Championship at Fairview Farm Golf Course. Much like Shorelines, Coach DaCorte’s squad wanted to improve on its ranking of 13th heading into the meet. Although North Branford had to deal with some difficult weather conditions at an unfamiliar course, the T-Birds finished in ninth place with a score of 375.
O’Brien shot an 87 over 18 holes to finish in 24th place at states. Cooper scored an 88 to finish tied for 25th. Junior Blake Pearson tied for 46th place with a 95, while junior Ryan Monde finished tied for 67th with a 105. Junior Jalen Rossicone finished tied for 74th with a 109 for North Branford.
“States was a course no one had ever seen. I had never seen it. The kids were going in there blind. We went in in 13th place. We just wanted to improve. Anything better than 13th was their goal,” said DaCorte, whose team also featured senior Griffen Geist. “The last five holes, the kids were playing speed golf with thunder coming. We were shuttling kids down the fairway. They finished just as the rain started. Doing that and finishing ninth was a huge accomplishment.”
Cooper served as the T-Birds’ captain for the season. Coach DaCorte didn’t name captains two years ago, but decided to bestow that honor up Cooper this year, because the rising senior is so well-respected by all of his teammates. DaCorte also commended Monde, Pearson, and Rossicone for helping to turn around the program during the past few years.
“When they were freshmen, I had no clue what I was getting. The year, before I had five seniors on the team and just one kid returning. I didn’t know if I would have a program,” DaCorte said. “They really revitalized North Branford golf. All they want to do is practice.”
DaCorte has been the T-Birds’ head coach the past five seasons, and he’s also served as an assistant boys’ soccer coach at Maloney High School and a basketball coach in North Branford for nine years. DaCorte said that the recent golf season was the most fun and the best campaign he’s ever had as a coach. DaCorte feels proud that North Branford’s golfers are passionate about the sport and are always looking to improve.
North Branford will be moving up to the Division III ranks next year. Coach DaCorte said that the T-Birds’ returning athletes got a sense of what they could achieve this season and have the potential for a memorable year in 2022.
“It’s up to them. Next year can be a very special year for North Branford golf,” said DaCorte said. “If they work, play, and improve as much as they did since freshman year, we can be very scary next year. That hasn’t been said in North Branford in a long time. Their goal is to finish top three in the Shoreline. They want to play against the best of the best.”