AYER – Ayer Shirley Regional High School might be a small school in enrollment, but judging by its golf team, one wouldn’t think so.
Utilizing a total team effort, the Panthers soared to impressive heights this season, winning the Division 3 Central Mass championship, and securing a fourth place showing at the MIAA Division 3 State Championship tournament.
The Panthers set incremental goals to the season, first winning the league, which gives teams an automatic trip to the district championship, followed by having a plus .500 record. But the Panthers not only exceeded every goal, but finished with a perfect 15-0 regular season record, with a comfortable 8-0 record in league play.
“We thought we were going to have a pretty good season, because we’ve gone to states the last two years prior to this,” Ayer Shirley Regional golf head coach Peter Gubellini said. “And we’ve had good records in those years. We set goals, but the goals were milestones in a sense. We set a goal of being our league champs… The next goal was to have a .500 record or better… Of course we achieved that goal, and of course had some tough matches along the way.”
The undefeated regular season was even more impressive due to a matchup with a highly competitive Division 1 power in Hopkinton High School on the regular season slate. The Ayer Shirley golfers hadn’t ever seen Hopkinton Country Club, but made their mark on the course, beating the heavily favored foes by 3 points.
It was a bit of an adjustment against Hopkinton, as Ayer Shirley is used to playing in match play competitions, but against Hopkinton shifted to top 8 stroke play. After the top 6 the Panthers were at a deficit in the score, the seventh golfer put them over the top, reverberating a common theme throughout the season that team depth shined supreme.
“That was a tough match against a really tough well coached team,” Gubellini said. “It was one of the highlights of the season. (We) knew the type of team that they were, and their history, and it was an interesting match. It was a true team win. It took 7 of our 8 players to get it done.”
Next was the league championship, where the top four scores count, which resulted in a comfortable gold medal and it was clear sailing to the district championship.
At district’s the top 4 scores counted out of 6 players, but a tie with Hopedale after the first four finished for both teams went to the fifth Jason Turner, where the Panthers prevailed. It marked the second year in a row that Turner had come up big in the depths of the ranks, as he broke a tie in 2022 to launch the Panthers into sectionals.
The district title victory launched the Panthers to their third straight trip to the MIAA State Division 3 Championship.
Sohil Patel, Reid Ohanesian, Tommy Bergin, Turner, Aadi Patel, Tyler Crawford, and Maverick Dostie comprise the top 7 in the Panther ranks, and a rotating group of three make up the eighth spot in Kenny Lewis, Matt Marchand, Troy Leighton.
The Panthers are relatively young at the top, with all of the top five returning with the exception of Sohil Patel. Crawford and Dostie are also seniors.
The Panthers made the trip down I-190 to Sterling Country Club for the state championship on a less than ideal weather day, with substantially wet conditions. All teams competed under the same conditions though, and the fourth-place finish was well received by the team. Weston High School secured the title.
“My players, like they do all the time, took it well,” Gubellini said. “They had it set as a goal to win that, but it didn’t happen that day. Nevertheless they were in good spirits, they trudged through 18 holes of some of the worst weather I’ve ever seen and they finished fourth. I’m pleased with this season and I know they are too.”
“They knew they had to play really hard that day to play as well as they did,” Gubellini continued. “They knew they had to play hard that day with the type of weather they were playing in…They’re very pleased with the season.”
The Panthers were a true family with most members playing on the team since middle school. All golfers improved throughout the season.
“They’ve all improved dramatically in the years that we’ve been together,” Gubellini said. “Now (all the top golfers) shoot in the 70s, and Jason Turner does too, so they’re all great golfers, and great competitors, and they’ll tee it up anytime, anyplace, anywhere.”
Sohil Patel boasted 3 scores of under 32 this season but will focus his college search on academics more than golf, despite being capable of potentially playing at the next level. That said, a walk-on attempt isn’t out of the cards.
Ayer Shirley had its golf banquet on Friday November 10 to celebrate the season. Most top players are members of their home course at Northern Spy Golf Club in Townsend.