TEWKSBURY – This season’s Tewksbury High Golf team will have a much different look than last season’s group, and will be even more different than the group that won back to back MVC Division 2 titles in 2018 and 2019 before last season’s COVID restricted season that saw the Redmen play a limited number of matches.
The differences for the Redmen are many, not the least of which is that they were forced to say goodbye to four of their top five players, having lost Anthony Pecci, John Beatrice, Sam White, and Joe Pazyra to graduation. Many of the players who are returning will also need to learn to play a different style of golf than they experienced last season in their first year of varsity play.
“After losing four top players in the lineup, this year's returning group will be relied upon to make significant jumps in the lineup, and learn to get back to playing in the match play format after we played stroke play last year during COVID,” Tewksbury coach Jim Sullivan said.
The Redmen have already played one match this season, a tough loss to league power North Andover last Wednesday. Their lineup in that opening match is a good indication as to what to expect throughout the season, and while many players are being asked to take on much bigger roles than in the past, Sullivan is confident that his team is up to the task.
Senior John Ragucci led the way for the Redmen in the opening match, playing in the number one spot, followed by fellow senior Brady Lane in the number two spot. Ragucci is in his second season with the Redmen, having previously played anywhere from the number five to eight slot in the lineup, while Lane returns for a third season after playing any from fourth through sixth in the lineup.
“Brady played up in the lineup for a season, but not in the top group, and Ragucci has made tremendous improvement and has been our clear cut number one player,” Sullivan said. “That’s a big ask for a player to go from playing five or six to playing one, but John has done a really good job playing this off season and summer in PGA Junior events and has improved his game to be able to play at that level. I'm really excited for him, like all the others on our team. He's a great kid who really works on his game. He had an unfortunate wrist injury early in his career that limited him from playing but he has been working very hard since to get to this point.
“Brady is pretty steady overall and does push John in practice each day, and they are good teammates that play well together so the two of them will hold down the top spots in our lineup.”
Junior Conor Cremin returns to the Redmen lineup and will take over the number three spot in the lineup, while sophomore Matt Cooke battled his way onto the varsity this season and will take the number four spot.
“Conor stepped up for us last year as a sophomore and after a slow start the first two days of tryouts, he has picked up right where he left off last year for us, playing well and solidifying himself into the three spot for us,” Sullivan said. “Conor also has experience from playing last season, albeit stroke play, but he has been on some of these courses that we're going to play this year, so he can help some of our younger guys around the course and situations as well.”
Matt Cooke has also made his mark early in the season to grab a spot in the top half of the lineup alongside Cremin.
“Connor and Matt have good camaraderie, having played hockey together last year as well. Matt is a good player that is learning how to play match play, as last year was his first year as he was with the JV team playing stroke play,” Sullivan said. “Matt has big expectations from us, but also even bigger of himself. He's an athlete that excels on the hockey rink as well as the baseball diamond and he has the same expectation of himself on the golf course. Matt's played well early on in the season and we look forward to his contributions this year.”
Fans of other Tewksbury High sports will be very familiar with the Redmen’s next player, senior Andrew Della Piana. Della Piana has done play by play announcing as well as public address announcing for several other Redmen sports, and become widely known as “The voice of the Redmen.”
“We will be counting on Andrew for his play on the course, as well as his leadership on and off the course,” Sullivan said. “Andrew's a rock solid player and person and could play anywhere from four to six for us depending upon how he and others are playing at the time. Andrew thinks the game and plays it well. He prepares himself both mentally and physically by getting out and playing at other courses prior to us playing them. He's focused and always knows what's going on with his competitors and playing partner.”
Sophomore Jeremy Insogna will pair up with Della Piana and play in the number six position, offering the Redmen a glimpse into the future, while also giving them some immediate help in the present.
“Jeremy continues to be a player that works tirelessly in the off-season playing in PGA and local stroke play events such as the Lowell Junior City Tournament,” Sullivan said. “Jeremy played in the six spot for us the other day in our match at North Andover, but he will continue to improve and like Dellie, he could legitimately play anywhere from the four to six spots in the lineup for us. I really believe that we have five players that could be interchangeable from the four to seven spots in our lineup.”
Senior Jason Cooke and junior Ryan Flynn will fulfill an important role for the Redmen, filling the seventh and eighth spots in the lineup. Sullivan has consistently preached about the importance of winning matches at the back end of the lineup and this season is no different. He is confident with the talent the Redmen have in those spots.
“We really value the seven and eight spots in the lineup and it has always been a strength of our team and this year will be no different,” Sullivan said. “Cooke and Flynn have solidified themselves there with their scores and match play records during the five days of tryouts that we had, and continue to do so during practices.”
Also vying for playing time at the back end of the lineup will be juniors Vincent Marchelletta, David Penney and Scott Lightburn, along with sophomore Victor Pacheco.
“Every player in our program has the opportunity to play off in practice for those spots, and again, those playing the best, will have earned those spots, nothing is given, everything is earned,” Sullivan said. “That works for those up and down the lineup, players will be challenged every day in practice to either hold onto their spot, or to move up. That competition level helps to push and challenge our players on a daily basis to get and work to be better each and every day, while also providing players with the opportunity to get in the lineup as well.”
While many things are different for the Redmen this year, one thing that is not is that the Redmen will once again be relying on a strong group of seniors to lead them this season, with Cooke, Della Piana, Lane and Ragucci all being counted on to guide the Redmen on and off the course.
“I can't say enough about all four of them and how they act, carry themselves and support their teammates and represent our team and program! I'm so excited for them and appreciative to have them and look forward to this season really getting going on the course,” Sullivan said. “Everyone will be in the same situation with new players and a changing format, so the season will be a fun and enjoyable one.
“Our focus hasn't changed this year from any of the previous seasons. We want to work to be better each day by trying to be better on each shot, hole and match or practice. As long as we continue to do that, we're going to be ok, as players will improve and get better and then the results will come.”