RFH shooting to win county golf crown

BY DOUG McKENZIE Correspondent

Heading into Thursday’sMonmouth County Tournament, the Rumson- Fair Haven golf team has plenty of reasons to feel good about itself.

The Bulldogs are ranked sixth in the Shore and sport a 12-3 overall record, with the three losses coming to a trio of the Shore’s elite teams – Christian Brothers Academy (by five strokes), Wall Township (by one) and Ocean Township (by six strokes). And RFH has beaten some very good teams in accumulating 12 wins: teams likeAllentown, Red Bank Catholic, St. Rose andManalapan. The one-strokewin overAllentown was particularly impressive, since the Redbirds entered the season as the topranked team in Group II.

“They’re a very good team, and having the home-course advantage is such a big thing in golf,” RFH head coach Craig Stoll said. “But we’re playing well, and have scored some big wins early on. We’re 5-0 in the division, too.”

RFH won a tri-meet onMonday and will be back in action today when they take on Ocean Township for the second time at Spring Meadows. But Stoll said his team would not necessarily be out for revenge against the Spartans as much as they’d be preparing for today’s county tournament at Hominy Hill Country Club in Howell.

“We play Wall twice a year because it’s a good program and a good rivalry,” he said. “But it’s not a division match, and it’s OK for our guys to be looking ahead to the counties. We’ll use the match as more of a tune-up than anything else.”

RFH is led by one of the very best duos in the state in senior Dan O’Connor and freshman Charlie Edler.

“To get a freshman who can step up and play in that spot is huge,” Stoll said. “And he is helping Dan because we graduated a guy that pushed Dan last year. In fact, Charlie even took the top spot from Dan for a little while this year, so he represents a competitive presence that can only make Dan a better player. He’s the best competition Dan has faced on a daily basis in three years.

“Neither one of them is the type of No. 1 player that will go out and challenge for individual championships every time, but when they play together, and playwell, they can competewith anyone else’s one and two.”

Sophomore Sam Washauer is back in the third slot, where he started last year as well, while his cousin, Mike Washauer, also a sophomore, is new to the varsity squad at the four spot after playing well for the JV last season.

“I had four different guys who have seen time at the fifth spot,” Stoll said. “They’ve all played OK, but at this point no one has really stepped up and distinguished themselves. In fact, I’m having two guys square off at practice (held on Tuesday) to see who will get that fifth spot on Thursday at the county tournament.

“A lot of the rest of the guys kind of mirror each other, but as a result, we have a lot of depth and balance on this team.”

After going 16-9 last year, which included a fifth-place showing at both the MCT and the Central and South Jersey Group II Tournament, this year’s Bulldog team had some high hopes entering the season. Thus far, they’ve done nothing to diminish those expectations.

At today’sMCT, Stoll believes his teamis capable of a top-three finish and should, at the very least, finish in the top eight and qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament.

“If we bring our A game, I believe we can finish in the top three, no question,” Stoll said. “But we could just as easily shoot well and finish ninth or 10th.”

The reason for his uncertainty is the depth and talent of this year’s field, a field that is being called one of the best in recent memory.

“I think CBA,Marlboro,Manasquan and St. John Vianney are the top four picks at this point, in my eyes, but anyone can drop, and there’s a lot of teams that can play well and finish ahead of them,” Stoll said. “If we can finish anywhere between second and eighth, I’d be happy. I think there are arguably 12 teams that have a shot at playing for a spot in the SCT, and that hasn’t been the case in the past.

“I think if the conditions are good, there’s going to be some low scores, and some very good teams left out of the SCT this year.”

As for his team’s play at Hominy Hill in the past, Stoll said it’s been a mixed bag.

“Every year’s a new year,” he said. “Usually if you shoot 330 or better, you’ll be in the top eight, but that’s not always the case. I think if Dan and Charlie can shoot in the mid- to high-70s, and our other guys play like they have been, we’ll be right there.”

Looking ahead to the state sectional (scheduled for May 12 at Centerdon Golf Course in South Jersey), Stoll again feels confident that his team can compete with the top teams in the field.

“We have a chance, but it’s a very tough tournament to win,” he said. “You can play phenomenal all year long and not be good that day, and it’s only a one-day tournament. But if we have four guys have a good day, sure, we can win it.

“But again, it’s a very good field, with teams like Allentown, Lower Cape May (last year’s champ) and Manasquan.We’ll have to play very, very well.”

And that is something Rumson-Fair Haven has been doing quite a bit of thus far.