The Johnston High School golf team posted an 8-6 record last year, its first winning season since 2002. The Panthers also just missed qualifying for states, dropping a playoff with Moses Brown by only two strokes.
For an encore, the Panthers will be looking for even more success.
And they look perfectly capable of delivering it.
“This is probably the best team I’ve had in the last five years, and it can only get better because we have one senior,” said head coach Jason Corsini. “I’m excited. We’re looking forward to the season.”
The Panthers lost two seniors from last year’s lineup, but they welcome back the other four regulars, and they’ve also made some key additions. It all adds up to a team with a lot of potential, both for now and the future.
This year, the Panthers will be shooting for their first state tournament berth since 2008. To get there, they’ll need to grab one of the top two spots in the West Division or win a playoff between the third, fourth and fifth place teams. With La Salle likely to run away with first place, it’s either second place or a playoff for the Panthers.
Whatever the path, Johnston is eager to find the destination.
“I’m optimistic we’ll be in that playoff, but my goal is to get the bye and finish as the second place team,” Corsini said. “It seems like it’s pretty much us, North Providence, Moses Brown and possibly Tolman shooting for that second spot.”
A solid lineup will lead the Panthers on their quest.
In the top spot, sophomore John Gesualdi returns after a standout freshman season. He was the team’s top golfer from day one last year, and qualified for the state tournament as an individual. He shot an 82 on day one of the tourney, missing the cut for day two by one stroke.
So far this season, Gesualdi has carded nine-hole scores of 44, 42 and 46.
“John keeps it around three or four over every time he’s out,” Corsini said. “He’s a solid No. 1 guy.”
Junior Kenny Calabro, a returning starter, is in the second spot and is capable of shooting in the mid-40’s. Sophomore Joe Peters is in the third slot, while junior Joe Zonfrilli is playing No. 4. Both of them were starters last year, and they also have the potential to score in the mid-40’s.
Senior Josh Oliveira, a newcomer, has grabbed the fifth spot. Oliveira previously played baseball in the spring, but decided on golf this year and has played well so far.
Another newcomer, freshman Jonathan Alsfeld, is currently playing in the sixth spot, with fellow freshman Derric Vigeant pushing for an opportunity.
All in all, the Panthers have the kind of lineup that can contend. Now it’s just about executing on the course.
“The more you play the better you are, bottom line,” Corsini said. “My biggest thing is I say bye to them on a Friday and sometimes they don’t pick up a club again until Monday. The ones who play on the weekends – it’s evident. It’s all muscle memory.”
Johnston will also focus on the short game.
“I think the biggest thing is everybody wants to go to the driving range and hit the big tee shot,” Corsini said. “They see Bubba Watson on the PGA Tour and they want to slam the ball, when 90 percent of the game is from 50 yards in. That’s what you have to work on. We’ve been doing a lot of extra practice at Buttonhole.”
The Panthers have gone 3-3 so far this season, with losses to La Salle, Moses Brown and North Providence, and victories over Shea, Scituate and Tolman. Scores have been a little higher than the Panthers hoped, but they’re also trending in the right direction. After shooting a 212 amid windy conditions in the season opener, the Panthers carded a 209 on Monday at Alpine Country Club and a season-best 201 on Tuesday in victories over Scituate and Tolman.
Gesualdi led the way Tuesday with a 46, Calabro shot a 49, Peters came in with a 52 and Alsfeld carded a 54.
The Panthers will try to keep moving in the right direction as the always-quick golf season winds down. The Panthers have four matches in the final two weeks of the season. Their next match is Monday at Triggs Golf Course at 1:30 p.m. against North Providence and St. Raphael.