WINSTED — Gilbert’s golf team stayed undefeated (12-0 Berkshire League; 18-0 overall) with easy wins over Housatonic and Shepaug Thursday afternoon at Winsted’s Green Woods Country Club.
Doing so kept them in the ranks of a handful of other area undefeated high school teams in a stellar year for the Northwest Corner. Torrington golf has an untainted record; so do the Northwestern softball, Shepaug baseball and Litchfield boys tennis teams.
Gilbert’s two-year reign as Berkshire League champions (one loss last year and an almost certain crown again this year) goes beyond a bunch of good athletes coming together: theirs is a passion for golf and their team.
“Any day of the week, (No. 1 and 2 golfers Conor Bailey and Dylan Keith) are out here playing,” said Yellowjacket coach Bob Sparks, who’s also the head pro at Harwinton’s Fairview Farm Golf Course and father of Torrington golf star Carson Sparks.
“The funny story about them,” Sparks says, “is they almost got in trouble one day last winter when they were out here putting before school without realizing there was a frost delay on the greens.”
“It’s rewarding,” says Bailey, a junior who’s been playing golf with sophomore Keith since they were 11 or 12 years old. “There’s instant gratification in it because, every shot, you can see what you’ve done and how that’s going to affect your score.”
Keith and Bailey both play basketball; Keith also plays football. Both find golf the most fun.
“I find it relaxing,” Keith said. “On this team, we compete with each other but we don’t get mad.”
“We just have fun,” says No. 4 Jeremy Huber, the team’s only senior. “And the more success we have, the stronger the bond between us gets.”
No. 3 Hillson Liu, a Chinese native who’s part of Gilbert’s international student community, is an important part of the bonding and the Yellowjacket character.
“Golf is more competitive in China,’ Liu says. “Here, it’s more like a team where we give confidence to each other. And we have a coach who fills our tanks every day.”
No. 5 sophomore Cam Merritt rounds out the picture of a team that’s happy enough to go fishing with each other on occasion.
“I just started playing two years ago,” says Merritt, who plays soccer and finished second in the 106-pound division of the Berkshire-Valley wrestling tournament last winter.
“As the five, I don’t have to worry about shooting my best, though I always try to catch the four,” Merritt says. “At every match, I just know we’re going to win because our team is so well-rounded.”
Bailey and Liu won the two-man statewide Stigberg Tournament a year ago and finished third this year. (Torrington tied for first and finished second in a match of cards.)
The Yellowjackets finished fifth in last year’s Division IV state tournament, standing fourth in the rankings this year.
“You never know,” says Coach Sparks. “I always say, what it takes to be a good golf coach is good golfers. The Gilbert school record is 158. The boys have been talking about having a 158 in them.”
Gilbert 165; Housatonic 198; Shepaug 227
At Greenwood Country Club, Winsted (Par 35)
Co-medalists: Conor Bailey/Dylan Keith, Gilbert – 39
Gilbert (165): Bailey 39; Keith 39; Hillson Liu 47; Jeremy Huber 47.
Housatonic (198): Zack Ongley 41; Mason Weigold 53; Dean Saccardi 51; Holden Marks 53.
Shepaug (227): James Foote 47; Tiernan Crossley 50; Grant Ketchum 59; Ted Eichen 71.
Records: Gilbert 12-0 Berkshire League; 18-0 overall; Housatonic 8-5; Shepaug 2-8.