College Men

Men's spring preview: Northeast Conference

Josh Salah
Josh Salah

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sacred Heart and head coach Matthew McGreevy have had a lot of time to think about last year’s fourth-place finish at the Northeast Conference Championship.

The Pioneers entered the tournament with high expectations, trying for a fourth conference title in five seasons. But a final round of 22-over 310 dropped Sacred Heart to fourth, 19 shots behind champion Mount St. Mary’s.

“We certainly thought about it a lot over the summer and even into the fall,” McGreevy said. “The guys are working really hard, and they want to get back to the top. We’ve kind of taken it as that’s where we want to be all the time.”

Sacred Heart, of Fairfield, Conn., took a big step toward regaining conference bragging rights in the fall. Not only did the Pioneers end the fall as the highest-ranked team in the Northeast Conference, at No. 176 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, they also notched four finishes of sixth of better, including a win at the CCSU Blue Devil Fall Invitational.

But it was a second-place finish at the Hartford Hawk Invitational that really told McGreevy the most about his team. Sacred Heart was seventh heading into the final round and would have to play it without Ross Kronberg, who had to withdraw due to an illness. The Pioneers responded to improve five spots on the final day, fueled in large part by the play of Peter Ballo, who shot 5-under 67 and ended up second individually after losing in a playoff.

“That really showed me a lot about their character,” McGreevy said. “Each score had to count, and they (bore) down and got after it.”

Sacred Heart also returns arguably the best player in the conference in Josh Salah, the defending conference player of the year. Add in Ballo, a St. John’s transfer, and sophomores Sam Barber and Will Smittle, and McGreevy has one of his most talented teams in three seasons as the men’s coach.

Salah sets the tone for the team, according to the coach.

“He’s got a work ethic that’s kind of infectious,” McGreevy said. “He works hard every day to get better. He’s really brought the team along. Some of the kids coming in didn’t have the work ethic then that they do now, and you can attribute a lot of that to him.”

A slight concern, though, could be that Sacred Heart closed the fall with an 11th-place finish at the MacDonald Cup and sixth-place showing at the Connecticut Cup. The Pioneers finished behind a conference opponent in each of those tournaments (14 shots behind Central Connecticut State at MacDonald Cup, two shots behind Bryant at Connecticut Cup). Sacred Heart had finished ahead of each of those teams earlier in the fall.

“It’s certainly something you think about, but not something you lose sleep over,” McGreevy said. “It’s golf. It’s something to always think about because you always want to measure yourself against the teams in your conference.

“But we have to go out and control what we can control, play our best golf, and at the end of the day, that will be good enough to come out on top.”

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Sacred Heart

Best player this fall: Josh Salah, Sacred Heart

• • •

Past champions

2012: Mount St. Mary’s

2011: Sacred Heart

2010: St. Francis

2009: Sacred Heart

2008: Sacred Heart

• • •

Conference capsules

Sacred Heart (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 176)

Fourth- and second-place finishes at Missouri Tiger Intercollegiate and CCSU Fall Invitational, respectively, highlighted fall. But the Blue Devils also finished 14th at Hartford Hawk Invitational and T-10 at the Connecticut Cup, where they placed behind conference foes Sacred Heart and Bryant.

Central Connecticut State (No. 217)

Fourth- and second-place finishes at Missouri Tiger Intercollegiate and CCSU Fall Invitational, respectively, highlighted fall. But the Blue Devils also finished 14th at Hartford Hawk Invitational and T-10 at the Connecticut Cup, where they placed behind conference foes Sacred Heart and Bryant.

Saint Francis-Pa. (No. 234)

Red Flash had solid fall, finish fourth or better in all six events, including runner-up finishes at the PSU Altoona Invitational and the Robert Morris Colonial Classic.

Monmouth (No. 236)

Hawks finished runner-up at both the Rehobooth Beach Fall Invite and the Monmouth quad-match. They also notched two more top 5s, including a third-place showing at the ECAC Championship. Ian Thimble and Brady Goodling led the way during the fall with three top 5s each and scoring averages of 74.2 and 74.5, respectively.

Long Island (No. 238)

Blackbird notched three top-5s in four fall events. They finished 10th at the Connecticut Cup, but bounced back in a big way by finishing runner-up at the Seton Hall Barnabas Health Intercollegiate.

Fairleigh Dickinson (No. 244)

Knights finished no worse than seventh during the fall, including fifth-place finishs at the STX Match Play and Seton Hall Barnabas Health Intercollegiate.

Bryant (No. 250)

Started slow with 10th-place finish at Adams Cup and 15th-place showing at Hartford Hawk Invitational, but closed fall with three finished of T-6 or better, including a T-3 performance at the Connecticut Cup. Kyle Buschmann racked up a team-high three top 10s during the fall. His 74.9 scoring average also led the team.

Robert Morris (No. 254)

Colonials won the Robert Morris Colonial Classic and finished second at the Leo keenan Invitational, but closed fall by finishing 17th out of 18 teams at the Dayton Flyer Invitational. Bo Lustig won medalist honors at the Colonial Classic while also being one of three golfer’s with a scoring average in the 76s during the fall.

Mount St. Mary's (No. 268)

Defending conference champions opened fall with finishes of sixth, fourth and ninth, but struggled down the stretch, capping fall with a 14th-place finish at the Donald Ross Intercollegiate and 26th-place finish (last) at the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate. Ryan Triller’s had two of the team’s three top-5 individual finishes.

Wagner (No. 287)

Seahawks finished last of second-to-last in first four fall events before a season-best ninth-place showing at the New England Intercollegiate.

St. Francis-N.Y. (No. 292)

Terriers finished ahead of just one team in four tournaments and did not boast an individual with a scoring average better than 81.7 during the fall.

Conference championship

May 3-5, LPGA International, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Sacred Heart. The sentimental pick here is Mount Saint Mary’s with the program being eliminated at season’s end. However, Sacred Heart had a very good fall season placing in the top-6 five times in six events and will be the favorite at the Northeast Conference Championship. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.