Jaywalking: Eagles riding memorable season

  • Franklin Tech's Tyler Raymond drives on three as Travis Cutting looks on at Thomas Memorial Country Club on Thursday. September 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Monday, October 23, 2017

It may not have seemed like it at the time, but the Franklin County Technical School golf team’s first match of the year could have set the tone for what became an undefeated regular season.

The Eagles opened the season by making the winding trip up the Mohawk Trail to North Adams, where they took on McCann Technical High School, a team that finished second in the Bi-County North last season. Making the already long trip worse that day was the fact that it was about as miserable a day as this reasonably warm fall has produced. It was cold and rainy; not the kind of day someone wants to be out on the links. One member of the team remembers that day well.

“It was pouring rain and I wanted to quit so bad,” Tyler Raymond joked. “I was like, ‘Why are we here? It’s freezing, it’s raining, it’s a little ridiculous.’”

Despite unfavorable weather, playing on a foreign course and the fact that the Eagles were coming off a 4-13 season in 2016, Franklin Tech put together a solid round of golf that day, and when the score was tallied, the teams were tied at 12-12. That meant the coaches had to tally up the rounds of the top four golfers on both teams to determine the tiebreaker. The Eagles won 187-191 to capture the win.

That catapulted the Eagles to the best season the program has ever enjoyed. Franklin Tech went undefeated in the regular season, winning the Bi-County West Division title as well as the Massachusetts Vocational Tournament title, which featured 21 teams from across the state. On Monday, the team continued its surprising season by finishing second at the WMass Division III Championships at The Orchards in South Hadley.

“Winning that first match with the excitement we won by kind of set the tone,” Eagles’ senior captain Hunter Sessions said. “I think it put the idea in our heads that we could do this, because McCann was so good last year. We were playing with our heads up after that. I think if we lost that match, our season could have gone in a different direction.”

To really appreciate just how strong a season the Eagles have had, you have to first understand something about the team. Franklin Tech golf has not been horrible in recent years, but the last time the squad was anywhere near as good as it was this year was in 2011 when it went 11-1-2. Things had gotten down for the team in recent seasons, so much so that last year the squad did not have enough golfers (six) to fill out the entire team card. That makes it difficult to win as a team, because every missing golfer costs four points, so the Eagles were starting matches last season in a 4-0 or 8-0 hole.

“Last year, we didn’t have nearly enough people,” sophomore Jordan DiGeorge said. “Most of the time we only had four or five guys. This year, we have eight. It gives us a chance to be better.”

Eagles’ coach Sean Knightly also acknowledged that winning in golf requires a little luck. If nothing else, at least don’t have bad luck, which is what Franklin Tech had last season. Junior Tyler Raymond was golfing out of the top spot during his sophomore season but had to have reconstructive surgery on his ankle prior to last season and missed the entire year. Also, freshman newcomer Mike McGoldrick, who was golfing out of the No. 2 hole, went up to Knightly after the first match and told him that he was feeling a bit overwhelmed at his new school and wanted to concentrate on his academics, so he was not going to play.

“Did I want to lose my No. 2 golfer? No, but I was totally impressed,” Knightly said of the decision. “And he nails it down, gets As and Bs, and he comes back this year a better golfer.”

Another aspect of golf and sports in general that tech schools, unlike other high schools, must deal with is that their students have cooperatives during their junior and senior years. These “work studies” place students in jobs in their field so they can learn their trade hands-on. Raymond is the perfect example of this. He is all healed this fall but began his cooperative at Lundgren Honda in Greenfield and has no choice but to put work first, golf second, which has limited him to playing in just four matches and attending only a handful of practices this season. Even though his time with the team is limited, Raymond said he wanted to be part of a team he has played on since his freshman season.

“Even though I have to work, I wanted to make it to as many matches as I could,” Raymond said. “I figured, ‘It’s my senior year, I love golf, I might as well go for it.’”

Overcoming all of that still does not make for an unbeaten season. That takes a whole lot of hard work, which is exactly what Knightly challenged his players to do after last season.

“They are going out and putting in the work,” Knightly said. “Our season handicaps us. We have six or seven weeks to do all of our matches and sprinkle in a few practices. If they don’t put in work in the summer, you get what you get. These kids were dedicated and that was huge and they bought into the team concept.”

McGoldrick was one player who put in a lot of effort over the summer to improve. Greenfield Country Club offers a reduced membership to high school golfers and the sophomore took advantage.

“I love golf and played almost every day this summer at the Country Club,” he said. “I knew we had a good team coming in, but I didn’t think we were going to pull off an undefeated season.”

The hard work helped the Eagles put together a deep lineup. Although no one player routinely shoots in the 30s, every one of them in the top six averages in the 40s, giving the team the kind of depth needed to be successful.

The results have been Franklin Tech dominating many of its matches this season. The Eagles played another close round of golf with McCann Tech (a 12½-11½ win at Thomas Memorial Golf & Country Club), but won every other match by at least 10 points.

That’s impressive when you consider that even the lesser teams have a chance to win on their home course. More than any other sport, playing on your home course is a major advantage. While football fields, basketball courts and soccer fields are all pretty much alike, golf courses are all different, and knowing your home-course idiosyncrasies is a huge edge.

“When I saw the guys go to other courses and have success, that’s when I started to think we had a special team,” Knightly explained. “Golf is the one sport where you can love it and hate it all on the same hole. Courses are all different. They have different hazards, different designs and different rules, and these kids remain calm, cool and collected and just go and focus on their game. That’s important, because if you bring a bad hole with you, you are going to have another bad hole.”

And while the players have enjoyed success partly by listening to that advice of putting the bad holes out of their minds, the season as a whole is something they will never forget.

There will soon likely be a banner hanging in the school’s gymnasium to ensure that this fall is remembered by generations to come.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.