The Escalon High School boy’s golf season has begun, and when Coach Rusty Fachner assesses his team’s play at this point, the word he uses is “Surprised.” After losing to a very talented Bret Harte squad at Greenhorn Creek Golf Course in their first match of the year, the young Cougar linksters have rattled off four straight victories.
“When you consider we lost four senior starters from last year’s squad, and we have only two starters this year with varsity experience, it'’ been a real nice beginning,” Fachner stated. “And we currently only have one senior on the entire team. Our young guys have really stepped up and played well. I just hope we continue to improve at this rate.”
This year’s Cougar golf squad is the epitome of young, with five freshmen, six sophomores, three juniors and a senior. Tim Wallace, a four-year letterman, is the lone senior and one of this year’s captains. Zack Gardner, a junior, was an important piece in last year’s championship team and a 2015 All-Trans-Valley League performer. He leads the Cougars in scoring and is the other team captain. Junior Brandon Levin, and sophomore Nolan Rockwell, were both members of last year’s JV squad, and freshmen Nathan Sarkozy and Danny Bava hold down the final two varsity starting spots. Junior Dominic Brumley, as well as sophomores Elliott Mello and Blake Kissee return from last year’s team. Kissee will serve as the JV team captain. Newcomers to the program include sophomores Jacob Lewis, Nic Lattig, and Parker Franklin. In addition to Sarkozy and Bava, freshmen Brad DaDalt, Austin Faria and Josh Hiatt are first time players. Assistant Coach Jerry Emery will again work with the JV’s and younger players.
“I’m excited about the numbers we have this year, and also the hard work and effort we’re getting from the younger guys,” noted Fachner. “I see some real potential in their games. We also have the luxury of Coach Emery working with them. He’s a real technician and really stresses all phases of the game with our new players. He’s instrumental in our program ‘reloading’ rather than constantly rebuilding.”
With Escalon being so young, it was no surprise that nerves played a part in the first loss at Bret Harte.
“We had four guys who had never played varsity golf before,” Fachner commented. “We put them on a course like Greenhorn and told them to go after it.”
The Bullfrogs defeated the Cougars 234-259, but Escalon was not without its bright spots. Gardner took medalist honors on the day coming in with a 40, while Rockwell posted a 45 in his first varsity effort. Wallace followed with a 55, Levin checked in at 59 and Sarkozy added a 60. Bava’s 69 closed the scoring for the day.
Against Linden at Lockeford Springs, it was a different story as the Cougars walked away with a 233-241 victory. Once again it was Gardner leading the way with a two-over par 38. Wallace backed him with a 41 and Rockwell shot 48. Levin added a 54, and Sarkozy finished the day at 56. But the real story of the day was the 52 shot by Bava. After shooting in the 60’s just two days before, Bava returned with a 52 that all but sealed the deal for the Cougars.
“What an effort by Danny. To improve by 17 strokes in a nine-hole match is terrific. He really focused on not making huge mistakes and did a great job of maneuvering around the course,” said Fachner. “I’m really proud of him. Great effort from a freshman in his second start. We don’t win it without his score.”
Buoyed by their first win, the Cougars hosted Orestimba at their home course, Oakdale Golf and Country Club. While it wasn't a dynamic showing, Escalon managed a 249-294 victory over the Warriors. This time it was Wallace who led the way with a 45, while Gardner and Rockwell shot 46 and 47 respectively. Levin added a 54 and Bava came in at 57. Sarkozy’s 58 completed the scoring.
On Wednesday, Escalon again took to the road to play Ripon Christian at Spring Creek and walked away victorious with a 223-277 final.
“I was impressed with our team effort,” stated Fachner. “To shoot 223 as a team, on a tough Spring Creek course, is reason to celebrate. I was nervous about how we would play another difficult track, but our guys are showing signs of real improvement. I love it.”
Against the Knights, Wallace and Gardner tied for team scoring honors with 41’s, while Rockwell shot 43. The real surprise on the day were the identical scores of 49 shot by the two freshmen, Bava and Sarkozy. Levin added a 50 to finish out the scoring for Escalon. Fachner was overjoyed at the effort of his two newcomers.
“The two frosh players really stepped up this time. The fact that both of them broke 50 on a course that can really give you fits, speaks to their course management skills and their maturity as young players.”
In the final match of the week, the Cougars were once again on the road, playing Livingston at Rancho Del Rey. Pre-season TVL favorite, Hughson, had just shot a 225 at the course in beating Livingston the previous day, so it would be a good barometer to see where the Cougars stood against the TVL’s top team. Escalon walked away with a 232-276 win over the Wolfpack and showed that with continued improvement, the Cougars might be able to make some noise in league play. Gardner continued his steady play with a 40 and Rockwell countered with a 41. Wallace scrambled to a 47, while Sarkozy followed his Spring Creek effort with a 51. Levin came in at 53 and Bava finished the day with a 56.
“I like where we are. We’re getting better and better for a young team. We’re only going to improve, and that’s exciting. We have tough matches coming up, so we have to keep working hard,” Fachner concluded.
This week the Cougars play in the Oakdale Cup Invitational Tournament and then play a home-and-home with Riverbank.