TOMS RIVER – The high school golfing community is a calm one. The sport always allows for these young adults to grab their clubs and enjoy a nice relaxing evening out on the range. Over the past few years, one thing has been a certainty – expect Toms River North to not always take things lightly. There is no doubt they’ll be battling to the 18th hole.
Since the 2011 season, Toms River North has dominated the golfing greens across the Shore Conference, picking up at least 11 wins every season and never losing more than four head-to-head matchups on their schedule.
With all the dominance that the program has displayed over the past decade, what would make a 12-0 start to the 2019 season so special?
“The catalyst of this year’s team is the bond these young men have with one another,” head coach David Fazzini said. “They are like brothers and have great chemistry with one another. They all have the drive and determination to improve their game and that is something to be admired.”
Toms River North has become a staple in the annual Ocean County Tournament at the par-72 Sea Oaks Golf Course in Little Egg Harbor. In this year’s 45th annual event, the Mariners not only won the team championship for the second straight year, but senior Connor Bekefi won the individual title after edging out freshman teammate Leo Kean by four shots.
In 2018, Bekefi fell just short of the individual crown after being defeated by Kyle Rogers of Jackson Memorial in a playoff hole.
“Connor is a very special young man who inspires everyone around him to have the same work ethic that he does,” Fazzini said of the Ocean County champion. “He can be hard on himself at times on the course, but he has the wherewithal to put aside his mistakes and just focus on the next shot.”
The team title speaks volumes to the depth that the Mariners employ in their lineup. Not only did Bekefi finish first in the individual standings with a score of 75, but Leo Kean was right behind him in second at 79, while Bill Fluery finished in ninth place, only 12 shots off the lead pace.
“This success is a testament to the work ethic and perseverance of our players,” Fazzini said. “They all work on their golf game year round and take lead from their captain. They are never satisfied and know they can always continue to improve.”
With the team title from the Ocean County Tournament newly minted in the trophy case in the halls of Toms River North, the next challenge for the Mariners was making some noise at the Shore Conference Tournament on the greens of the Charleston Spring Golf Course in Millstone.
Bekefi had yet another strong performance in the individual standings, ultimately falling just one stroke short to Christian Brother Academy’s Brendan Hansen –- who would ultimately win the title on a playoff hole against his teammate Jack Wall.
Bekefi shot a 70 on the par-under-72, 6,377 yard course, and North also got strong showings from Kean (77) and John O’Donnell (80), who both finished in the top 15. Anthony Mazzola finished 31st at 85 strokes.
“We had a very strong finish at the Shore Conference finals, but we were not satisfied by any means,” Fazzini said. “We certainly learned that we have the ability to play with some elite teams such as CBA, but we know we still have to continue to strive toward our goals.”
While Bekefi has the accolades and trophies to back up the notion of being the leader for a program bestowed in recent success, Fazzini noted that his entire lineup gets the attention that they each earned.
“John O’Donnell and Bill Fleury have been instrumental in our undefeated campaign thus far,” Fazzini said. “They have been posting score after score that have been keeping us in matches.” O’Donnell and Fleury are both in line to return to the roster in 2020, with Fleury set to become a senior leader to the group. O’Donnell will be a junior who has started since his freshman year.
“John made a 20-foot putt on the last hole against Wall Township in our closest match of the year, and Bill fired an impressive one-under-par to defeat Brick Memorial, our closest division competition.”
Anthony Mazzola, the fifth man in the Mariners lineup, has also been a welcome addition this season as a sophomore.
Freshman Kean burst onto the scene this year, slotting into the starting lineup and producing numbers that have already put the rookie into the conversation of top golfers in the Shore Conference. Kean has had no problems fitting into the lineup as the lone newcomer on the roster.
“We knew coming into high school that Leo was going to be a competitive addition to the team, but he has far and away exceeded the expectations placed on him,” Fazzini said of the freshman. “He really has risen to the challenge and competed at the highest level of golf in the area.”
Kean was a major reason for the Mariners capturing the Ocean County Tournament championship for the second straight year, needing just 79 strokes on the par-72 course, second behind Bekefi. His strong effort helped TRN finish 18 strokes ahead of second place Southern Regional.
As the regular season comes to a close, the Mariners will shift their attention to the NJSIAA Central/South Sectional Tournament at the Charleston Springs Golf Course, the same location as the Shore Conference championship.
Toms River North will give it their best effort when they take to the course in the coming weeks, and regardless of the outcome, the Mariners will certainly be the team giving it their best. They might have the goal to be at the top once the Tournament of Champions meet breaks later in May, but the desired results will take a back seat in the coming weeks, because they know the only thing they can control are the results they post themselves.
“Our goal is to just be a competitive team in both our group sectional, and the T.O.C. if we can get there.” Fazzini said.