Just like their baseball and softball counterparts, golfers and tennis players in Section 4 have not had many opportunities to practice or play outside during this cold, wet spring.
“The preseason has been challenging as far as trying to keep the guys active and try to come up with different drills they can do,” Lansing golf coach Matt Loveless said. “I know that with us, at least, we’re kind of restricted as to what we can do in the building.”
Practicing with wedges, hitting practice balls into wrestling mats in an auxiliary gym, and putting in the carpeted library have been the main forms of practice for the Bobcats, and the situation is the same for other teams and sports across Section 4 as winter has thus far been reluctant to loosen its grip.
“This has been the most challenging season since I’ve been coaching, in terms of the weather and getting outside,” said Ithaca High tennis coach Arthur Falkson, who’s in his 10th year with the Little Red and seventh as head coach. “We’ve been able to get a fair number of practices at (Cornell University’s) Reis Tennis Center. We got funding thanks to the booster club, and now we’re doing some of our own fundraising to try to keep practicing when the weather doesn’t allow.”
In fact, the Little Red opened its season on Saturday afternoon with a non-league victory over Thomas A. Edison High at Reis. As the weather breaks, teams will be cramming in rescheduled games in every available slot, so practices are more important than ever.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to get outside three times now since March 10,” Loveless said last week, “and even getting outside, with the field we used, we’re not hitting drivers. We’re hitting maybe 8- or 9-irons, and I know other teams are dealing with the same thing.
“It’s going to be an interesting season,” he said. “Once we do get on the courses, we’re really going to have to compact our matches … we’re definitely going to have four, if not five, days a week of just matches.”
The Interscholastic Athletic Conference golf season was supposed to begin last week, but a host of matches got postponed due to the weather. When the league finally tees off in 2014, all eyes will be on Trumansburg phenom Danny Lapp.
A sophomore, Lapp opened eyes across New York two years ago as an eighth-grader by placing third in the New York State Public High School Athletic Conference championship tournament at Cornell. Lapp, a fine athlete who also plays soccer and basketball, is a two-time Syracuse District Golf Association junior player of the year and will be looking to improve upon his 13th-place finish at last year’s state tournament.
Last year, Lapp shot a 3-over-par 75 to lead the Blue Raiders to the IAC Large School team title, T-burg shooting a five-man score of 404 and winning by 47 shots over Lansing. Loveless has his top four players returning from last year — senior Clint Herzog, juniors John Losurdo and Jack Myers and eighth-grader Nic Whittaker.
Marathon, led by Zack Brandstadt’s 78, won the Small School title last year by five shots over Union Springs. Brandstadt is back for his senior season, and along with classmate Cody Morrison should make the Olympians competitive again. The Wolves’ Cole Bowen shot an 85 to finish sixth at the IAC tournament, will also vie for top honors among the conference’s individuals.
The Section 4 Class C tournament is set for May 19 at Maple Hill in Marathon, with the IAC tournament scheduled for three days later at Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads. The Class B and D sectional tourneys are also slated for May 22, with the state tournament set for June 1-2 at Cornell’s Robert Trent Jones course.
Mike Bryant’s Lansing boys have dominated the IAC in recent years, but with the loss of seven seniors to graduation, he thinks his team will be one of the many in the conference this season struggling with a lack of depth.
His lone returning singles player is senior Andy Parkes, who came within a whisker of becoming Bobcat tennis’ first player to advance to states. Bryant thinks that with Parkes skill and dedication (“He’s a machine,” Bryant said of Parkes), this could be the year.
There’s no such depth issues at Ithaca High, which returns just about everybody from last year’s undefeated, STAC championship squad that entered this season on a 27-match unbeaten streak.
“Ithaca High will have the best team overall (in Section 4), by a long shot,” said Bryant, who also organizes the annual Tompkins County Open tournament over the summer. “The depth on that team is going to be really strong.”
Both Bryant and Falkson said while Ithaca may have the strongest team entering the season, the prohibitive favorite to reap all the top individual honors is Corning senior Artem Khrapko.
Ranked among the top junior players in the East by the USTA, Khrapko did not compete for the Hawks last year as he focused on USTA regional and national events. His return makes Corning much stronger, Falkson said.
“He’s back and his goal is to win states,” he said. “It’s a big boost for Corning, which has all of its singles players from last year coming back, so they all move down one spot.”
Ithaca junior Justin Milner might be one notch below Khrapko. After struggling with a foot injury the past two seasons, Milner is healthy and ready to make a run at states; he qualified last year in doubles with classmate Kevin Huang, who also returns.
Falkson had to make a couple of cuts to get down to 24 players, a luxury most teams do not enjoy. And with six seniors — two (Aleksa Basara, Josiah Rawlings) in his top 14 — Ithaca would appear set for the foreseeable future as well.
Sectional class meets are scheduled for May 15-16, with the state qualifier set for May 23-24 at sites to be announced. The state tournament is scheduled for May 29-31 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.