Talented duo to lead Hudson boys golf team

FRANK ACETO Reporter

The reality is this: The Hudson boys golf team has not advanced to the state tournament since 2016.

First-year Explorers’ head coach Matt Villenauve, on the other hand, prefers to look at the facts from a mathematical perspective.

For instance, did you know that Hudson has missed qualifying for the state competition by just an average of two strokes per player during the last three years?

“We’re close,” Villenauve said.

They are indeed.

They may not be state-bound every year, but the Explorers have established quite a legacy in Northeast Ohio for what seems like forever.

Consider this: Hudson has advanced to district play as a team seven consecutive years, including last year when the Explorers won a Division I sectional title for the first time since 2014.

Hudson also has qualified for the state tournament twice in the previous six years. If Villenauve has his way, three times in seven years will sound far more delightful.

“Our expectations are to make district play,” he said. “Our stretch goal? Qualify for states.”

Since the competition expects to be as fierce as ever, the Explorers may have to go well beyond their capabilities.

They learned that the hard way last year.

Despite shooting a very respectable score of 315 during district play, Hudson saw its 2019 season come to a heartbreaking end with an 11th-place finish.

The Explorers also finished second to reigning three-time champion Stow-Munroe Falls in the Suburban League National Conference standings.

Of course, Hudson does have this over its main rival: the Hudson/Stow Rivalry Cup.

The Explorers won the inaugural event between the two longtime frenemies last fall at Fox Den Golf Course. They are scheduled to butt heads again Aug. 25 at the Country Club of Hudson.

“We expect to compete for a Suburban League title,” Villenauve said. “We expect Stow to be loaded again and love competing with the Bulldogs.”

Hudson lost just two players to graduation. They are Erik Block and Burke Villenauve, who happens to be the new coach’s son.

The Explorers do have their dynamic duo back in the mix. They are senior Ben Basta and junior Coop Pamer.

Basta qualified for the state competition in 2017. Last year, Basta was named to the National Conference first team.

“Ben was not happy with his 2019 season performance,” Villenauve said. “He worked on a few changes during the season that just did not gel as fast as expected.

“This season will be different for Ben. His game is solid and his experience, including the Ohio state Championship, makes him one of the leaders on our team and one of our two team captains.”

Pamer, who also earned first-team National Conference recognition, was Hudson’s top performer in 2019. Pamer earned medalist honors during Hudson’s sectional win.

“Coop has exploded onto the golf scene the last two years and has put up three top-10 finishes this summer in AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] and Golfweek Junior events,” Villenauve said. “Most recently, Coop shot 74 and 75 at the AJGA preview in Sevierville, Tennessee. Coop was our player of the year in 2019 and is our second-team captain.”

Another key returnee is junior Andrew Yard, who despite an off-year by his lofty standards, received National Conference honorable mention.

“Andrew struggled last year but rebounded this summer season as I expected,” Villenauve said. “As expected, once he got better control off the tee box, the scores dropped.

“Andrew jumps into the No. 3 slot to start the season so expectations will be higher this season. However, Andrew grinds out tournament play. He is very ready for this.”

Sophomore James Fliss appears to have a firm grip on the No. 4 spot. Fliss contributed for the Explorers’ junior varsity team last fall.

“James returned for tryouts and went low,” Villenauve said. “He is ready to fill the No. 4 spot. He is a gifted athlete with a ton of natural feel and pound for pound, nobody hits a golf ball like James Fliss. He does not have a ton of tournament experience, but this season will take care of that.”

Another returning varsity player is senior Jackson Choi, who will battle classmate Kyle Susz and sophomore Spencer Sizemore for the fifth spot.

“Jackson spent the end of the season with the varsity team last year so he has some experience,” Villenauve said. “Kyle’s iron play and parts of his short game have looked great over the last three rounds.

“Spencer is right there with the other two, battling it out. Spencer played great in tryouts. It's going to be interesting to see if he can continue to play at that level or lower.

“All three of their scoring averages for the summer and through tryouts have been similar. Tournament time will test them all.”

First-year coach Jeff Osciak will lead the junior varsity team. Hudson is scheduled to make its 2020 debut at the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy Invitational Monday at Glenmoor Country Club in Canton. Play is set to begin at 8 a.m.

“The new guys are going to have to step up if Hudson is to continue its run to district play,” Villenauve said.

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.