MANCHESTER - The prolonged winter may have created a few obstacles, but the start of the golf season is drawing near.

Coming into this season, the Burr and Burton Academy boys golf team has a solid nucleus returning with seniors Kyle Boucher, Hunter Caler, Drew Herbert, and Nick Parente and juniors Joey Shehadi, Will Tate and Josh White - all of whom have been with the team for three years - anchoring this year's squad.

The team has seen a relatively significant rise in numbers this season - increasing from nine last year to 14 this season. The team only lost one member due to graduation and seven more - seniors Anders Aveille-Embree, Nick Linton and Kevin Pollio, junior John Amigo and freshmen Connor Dee, Owen Sniatkowski and Alex Weinstein - have joined.

Last year BBA sent five members of the team to the state finals, four of which - Boucher, Caler, Herbert and Shehadi - are returning this season. Coming into the season coach Jeff Houghton said he expects Caler, Herbert and Shehadi to be among his top three golfers. However, he anticipates that veterans, Boucher, Parente, Tate and White will not be far behind.

"Right now, looking at last year, Drew Hunter and Joey were our top golfers in most matches the whole year so that's a good way to start when you can bring back three kids and then Kyle, Nick, Will and Josh are right there. They're close," said Houghton. "The question now is how much they're going to put in once our season starts outdoors; when practice is over with how much time are they going to put in That's going to determine a lot of how well they do."

Houghton said the hope is that with all the golfers being so close in terms of ability that practices will be very competitive - something he hopes will also carry over once the season begins.

For Boucher, Caler, Herbert, Parente, Shehadi, Tate and White anchoring this year's team goes beyond their individual play. They will also be expected to take on other responsibilities as well.

"We're putting a lot of focus on those boys to be the leaders and to take some of the younger kids [under] their wings and help them," said Houghton. With courses not being open before spring break, Houghton said that team has spent some time already practicing thier short game - chipping into the net and putting at the hockey rink in Rutland - which he believes will have a significant impact throughout the season.

"I don't think you can practice enough short game. I think that's going to be our focal point. Most of our kids are pretty good drivers of the ball," said Houghton. "I think the course management probably will be as much talked about as any part of their game so, we're really going to work on that part of it and that attitude of don't let the course beat you. You're just playing the course and don't worry about who you're playing in matches, just work on you're strengths."

In additon to the chipping and putting work they have been doing, Houghton said the team has spent a couple of days a week training in the gym. The golfers have been doing a lot of leg and core work as well as hip rotation drills to prepare for the season.

"I think that's always been beneficial at least the last couple of years that we've done this. It gets their bodies ready for the torque of a golf swing," said Houghton. "I think conditioning is one of the least worked on part of anybody's game. So, we take that as one of our focal points in the first two to three weeks of our season just because we aren't outside."

When the students come back from vaction, Houghton said once they are able to get outside they will not only continue to spend time practicing chipping and putting, but get out on the courses and play.

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