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May 10, 2018 8:53 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Lady Mariners Golf Team Goes Undefeated In First Season

From left, Caitlin Brown, Caroline Oakley and Mia Wilutis have led the Southampton girls golf team in its inaugural season this year. CAILIN RILEY
May 14, 2018 11:25 AM

Caraline Oakley and Kaitlyn Brown were members of the Southampton varsity boys golf team last season. They were the only girls on the team, but didn’t mind too much, because they were playing the game they loved, and representing their school. Then they found out that girls who play on a boys golf team are not eligible for the state tournament. And that was a problem.

So the players and their parents pushed for the creation of a girls varsity golf team at Southampton, and its first season has been a runaway success. The Lady Mariners, coached by Kim Hannigan, recently won the League IV regular season title, going undefeated with a 12-0 record, playing against Sachem, Mt. Sinai, Longwood, Shoreham/Wading River, Ward Melville and Riverhead. Led by Brown, a freshman, and Oakley, a sophomore, the team includes seven players—Oakley, Brown, Caroline Wilutis, Kiera Gill, Mia Wilutis, Ella Coady and Emma Kraszewski—all underclassmen, with not even a junior among them. It marks the first time in school history that there’s been a girls golf team. The benefits of creating a team have extended beyond opening the possibility for a run at states for the top players, but it certainly provided the impetus for creating a program, particularly for Oakley and Brown.

“Last year we really started to improve our game, and we found out that if we do well in counties, we aren’t allowed to go to [the boys] states,” Oakley said last month, standing alongside Brown and fellow teammate Mia Wilutis before a home match at Bridgehampton Golf Club. “We’re both trying to play in college, so we really wanted to be able to go to states.”

Oakley and Brown said that playing on the boys team wasn’t a bad experience, but admitted that it can’t compare to what they’ve enjoyed this year.

“It’s a lot different,” Oakley said. “It’s a lot easier to have conversations, and the whole game is totally different.”

“It’s a whole different environment,” Brown added. “And it’s definitely a feeling of pride to know that we’re doing well this season and it’s just our first year here.”

Playing on an all-girls team is new, but the game itself has been a part of life for Oakley, Brown and Wilutis for nearly as long as they can remember. Golf is a family tradition for all three—Wilutis, her parents, and her three siblings all play golf, mainly at Gardiners Bay Golf Course in Shelter Island, and she says she started playing “seriously” at age nine. Oakley’s family are members at Southampton Golf Club, and she followed in the footsteps of her older brother, Christian, who was the top player for the boys team for several years. She started playing golf when she was just five years old, she said, and was competing in junior tournaments by the age of nine. Brown, the middle sibling of three, also started at five and was competing two years later.

“My dad pushed me to play when I was younger, and my siblings too, so we’d all have something to do in common,” she said. “I’m definitely thankful for that.”

The three players all list their long game as their strength, and said they are excited for the upcoming U.S. Open, which will be hosted by Shinnecock Hills Golf Club starting on June 11.

For now, they are happy to have a team to call their own, playing the game they love and making memories both on and off the course.

“We all get along so well together,” Oakley said. “There’s not five minutes that go by where we don’t have a laugh about something. We all push each other to be better, but we’re so close that we’re happy no matter who does well.”

Hannigan said she knew the team would be strong, but because she had no idea what the competition was like, still wasn’t sure what to expect. Southampton’s boys varsity coach, Tim Schreck, had told her that Oakley and Brown were strong players for his team, and Hannigan added that after the first varsity match, a win over Ward Melville, the coach told her that she had a really strong team.

Hannigan is an avid golfer herself, and also has extensive experience coaching high school lacrosse and field hockey. She has seen first-hand the advantages players have when they begin a sport at a young age, and believes that explains part of her team’s success.

“We have players who come from families that have played golf and introduced golf at a young age,” she said. “You see that up island in a sport like lacrosse where kids are playing younger, and sometimes around here it’s introduced later on. So I think, with golf, that’s an advantage we’re seeing now.”

Hannigan said it has been a pleasure for her to watch her players enjoy the game and the camaraderie that goes with it, not just with their teammates but opponents as well.

“They get along so well, but they’re also respectful of their competition,” she said. “I’ve watched some of the younger athletes become friendly with the girls they’re playing against, having conversations while they’re playing. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

With even the oldest players guaranteed to be around for two more years, the team’s future is secure, at least in the short term. Oakley, Brown and Wilutis hope that what they started lasts even longer than that.

“It would be really nice to see it continue,” Brown said. “It’s definitely a different environment that girls should experience, to play with other girls and see what the competition is like, to see it as a comparison to where other girls are.”

Oakley added that first-time members of the team didn’t play last season because they were intimidated to play with boys, an obstacle that is now no longer an issue.

“We’re trying to inspire more girls to play,” she said.

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