By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — They were dead. They were buried. Now they have the individual champion from the Division 3 state championships.
The Newburyport golf team started its season at the bottom, and there the Clippers stayed for most of September, going 0-6, culminating in a 160-121 loss at the hands of Manchester Essex Sept. 26.
Less than a month later, the Clippers can boast the best golfer in Division 3. Newburyport captain Brendan Crowther took home the honor yesterday by shooting a 1-over par 70 at Hillview Golf Course in North Reading at the Division 3 Championships. Crowther had the top score of any of the 108 golfers who competed in the event.
Looking back to September, it was a surprise that Newburyport even qualified for yesterday’s state championships.
After the 0-6 start, perhaps many other teams would have said, “This is not our year,” but these Clippers brushed themselves off and treated Ipswich to a 152-106 drubbing the next day. Port took down Hamilton-Wenham, 166-123 to start October then dropped a match to Masconomet, 178-131 and that was the turning point.
“They lost to Masco, but they played tough against them,” says coach Steve Malenfant. “It looked like they felt like they could play with anybody. Because Masco was a tremendous team and they started playing with everybody after that. Then I started to notice that they started beating teams with good records.”
Along the way, Newburyport went on a four-match winning spree, losing only to Triton in the River Rival tournament where the Clippers went 2-1. A pair of wins against North Reading the next two days won the Clippers not only a playoff berth, but Malenfant was named the CAL Division 1 Coach of the Year and Crowther was named All-League.
“I think we had enough of losing after six losses,” says Crowther. “So we kind of turned it around. Once we got the first ‘W’, we really didn’t start losing.”
“We thought the season was going to be a dull one after starting out 0-6,” agrees fellow junior co-captain Kyle Bushnell. “But after we got the first ‘W’, after the last match, we thought we could go on a run. And we ended up winning 10 out of the last 12 to get us over a .500 record and in the tournament.”
A big part of their success could be attributed to the team’s collective loose attitude.
“It’s all about the humor,” says team comedian and social director, sophomore Travis Koocher.
“We’re pretty goofy,” agrees Crowther. “We make golf pretty fun.”
“They’re silly, but when they’re on the golf course, they can turn to a point where they say, ‘Now, let’s take care of business,’” says Malenfant. “But they still enjoy it out there. They’re a talkative bunch both on and off the course. But I think that’s what kept them loose.”
With that goofiness came confidence and the will to win.
“We just thought, if we have a positive attitude coming into a match, then we could win it,” says Bushnell. “On the greens, we were talking about how we could beat these guys, and what points we had to get the win. Every match, we were able to accomplish that goal and get on a run.”
On Oct. 16, the Clippers assured themselves a tournament berth by beating North Reading on the road, 153-135.
“It was a pump-up ride,” Koocher says of the post-clinch bus trip home from North Reading. “We were heading back to my house for a little pasta party. We were all pumped up, and it was an overall fun season.”
Malenfant says he wants to stay away from the one-match-at-a-time cliche, but in the end, that was just what it took to get this team firing on all cylinders.
“Just winning one, it really was the monkey off their back,” assesses Malenfant. “I wasn’t thinking about next matches or anything like that. We’d just go out and play, honestly.”