Losing does not come easily to a champion; a team that establishes a dominant, winning tradition has a hard time breaking it. Such was the case for Stuyvesant’s varsity golf team, the Eagles. “The team was pretty devastated,” coach Emilio Nieves said of the Eagles’ semifinals loss. After consecutive city championships and two consecutive seasons without a single loss, the team faced a tough end to the season.
With matchups against powerhouses in Hunter College High School and Eleanor Roosevelt High School, chances for Stuyvesant to regain the top slot were bleak. Though the Eagles took the match against Roosevelt, they were forced to forfeit the Hunter match, leaving them at a 5-2 record and in fourth place in the Manhattan League. With their first non-undefeated season in three years, the Eagles would no longer have the luxury of the top playoff seed and an easy matchup.
Last year, the Eagles faced Leon M. Goldstein High School (5-4), and were able to eliminate them, winning 4-1. This year, Stuyvesant faced Goldstein again, but in much different circumstances. As the 10th seed, and with an impressive 8-1 record, Goldstein was due to pose a challenge for the Eagles. However, like in the win over Roosevelt, the Eagles set the tone right off the bat with a hot start. Through the first three holes, nobody on Stuyvesant’s starting five posted a single total of over six strokes.
Additionally, the back end was dominant once again, particularly in the cases of senior and No. 3 golfer Kevin Zheng and freshman and No. 4 golfer Alexander Camaev. Neither of those two matches was particularly close; over the course of the match, Camaev and Zheng combined for just one hole of over six strokes. For contrast, Goldstein’s No. 3 and No. 4 golfers put up just one hole of under six strokes. From the beginning, the Goldstein match mimicked the previous victory against Roosevelt. Though it ended up slightly closer, the Eagles still finished with a comfortable 3-1 win.
With that, the Eagles were set to face their toughest challenge yet. Playing as the lower seed for the first time in four years, Stuyvesant faced the second-seeded Tottenville High School, who finished the season 10-1, first in the Staten Island division. In Stuyvesant’s past two victories, the team was able to coast on the dominance of its back end over unbalanced starting lineups. Tottenville, however, boasted a deep lineup—a threat to the Eagles’ usual dominance. If their first round matchup was any indication, Tottenville’s bottom golfers would be just as strong as those at the top of the lineup. In a 5-0 shellacking of Midwood, Tottenville’s No. 5 golfer, Blossom Yu, did not have a single hole that took more that five strokes.
Though Stuyvesant’s two stars, junior Christopher Chan and senior Nicholas Ng, were able to lose matches against Roosevelt and Goldstein and still see the team win, the Eagles simply could not afford for this to happen against a team like Tottenville. For Stuyvesant to advance, the team needed to get off to a similarly fast start, and to see similar dominance from Camaev and the rest of the back end once again. On top of that, Chan and Ng needed to go toe-to-toe with Thomas Sclafani and Nicholas Khoury of Tottenville. This was possible, as Chan’s regular-season nine-hole total of 34 is less than Sclafani’s of 35, meaning that a head-to-head victory was not out of the question. Yet, even with the tall odds, the team still had confidence going into the match. “It will probably be tough, but I have faith in our team,” Ng said before the match.
Though the previous victories over Roosevelt and Goldstein can be attributed to the dominance of the back end, the Eagles’ match against Tottenville was defined by the success of Chan, Ng, and Zheng, who came through in the clutch. Chan was as strong as he has ever been, and with all six of his holes ending up at under six strokes, he made quick work of Sclafani.
Zheng was even more impressive, posting a full nine-hole match with eight of the nine holes under six strokes. Though the match went down to the wire, and despite being beaten in the nine-hole total, 44-45, Zheng’s consistency earned him a victory in the end. With a similarly spectacular performance from senior and No. 5 starter Neil Yang, the Eagles managed an improbable upset against the No. 2 seed in the city, winning 3-1.
In the semifinals, the Eagles were set for a rematch against Roosevelt. Chan seemed to have an inkling that this would happen after the first Roosevelt match: “Just beating a division rival was great for team morale, especially because we could face them in the playoffs,” he said after the regular season victory. Yet, even with team morale being as high as it was, the Eagles could not put it together in the semifinals.
While the match against Tottenville was the epitome of consistency, the showdown with Roosevelt quickly turned into the opposite. Though Yang had himself a day once again, the rest of the starting five underperformed, as each member posted multiple holes of six strokes or higher. Though the matches of Chan and Ng went down to the wire, with Ng’s in particular going into a tiebreak, the Eagles could not pull out a win and fell, losing 2-3.
Despite having been eliminated, Ng remains hopeful for the future. “A bunch of the younger players are really stepping up and I think that we’ll all keep improving,” he said. However, with hope, there also comes apprehension. Ng, Zheng, and Yang comprise three-fifths of the Eagles’ starting lineup, and are all graduating seniors. Knowing the effects of the loss of star Niel Vyas a year prior, the effect of this should once again be profound, as it is never easy to replace more than half of a starting lineup.
Though the team still has a solid core of Chan and Camaev to build around, Nieves understands the need for young talent. “A few new good freshmen would also help continue the success we have had over the last five years,” he said, showing optimism in the possibility of new prospects. Seeing that the non-starters combined for exactly one match played this season, it is apparent that inexperience is rife on this team. Ultimately, next year’s Eagles will either sink or swim depending on the ability of members to step up and on the talent of next year’s freshman crop.