By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Dan Farinola knew that when he took over as head golf coach at North Arlington High School seven years ago, there was a lot more teaching involved than coaching.
“It was a lot more about golf etiquette and course management than anything else,” Farinola said. “We didn’t get too many seasoned golfers.”
After all, there aren’t a lot of golf courses in the general vicinity of North Arlington, so the chances of finding a homegrown Tiger Woods were slim and none.
“We had to hope to find a kid whose father was a player,” Farinola said. “Maybe their uncle played.”
The nearest Bergen Countyrun courses were in places like Teaneck and Paramus. You’re not exactly crawling right out of bed and hitting the links.
And in those early days, practices were held on the stage in the North Arlington gym. No need for distance yardages there.
“If we were going to make a mistake, it was going to be on the indoor mat,” Farinola said.
Needless to say, those first few years were a little lean for the Vikings.
But three years ago, Farinola started to see some improvement. At the very least, there was a hint of respectability.
“We had back-to-back seasons where we won four matches,” Farinola said.
That was the first sign. The other?
“Kids kept coming back,” Farinola said. “Getting kids to come out for a couple of years in a row was big. The group I had worked extremely hard. They wanted to play and wanted to learn. You could see the progress.”
Last spring, the Vikings finally had more wins on the course than losses. You have to crawl before you can walk.
“We had a 13-12 record last year,” Farinola said.
For a school without a home course and a program without a visiting golf pro, winning 13 matches was practically unheard of.
“No one knew if we ever had a winning record before,” Farinola said.
That included the school’s resident sports historian, Joe Spaccavento, who is the former head girls’ basketball coach and the chairman of the school’s Hall of Fame committee.
“Even Spac didn’t know,” Farinola said. “We figured it had to be some sort of a record.”
So when the 2014 golf season began in earnest last month, Farinola thought his team had a chance to be slightly better than competitive.
“We knew we had a good group of kids who had been here a little bit,” Farinola said. “In the past, we might have had one or two kids who could shoot consistently. Now, we had five kids who could all shoot 50 or lower (for nine holes). We had a shot to do something.” As it turned out, the Vikings became consistent winners. Five wins led to seven, then eight, then nine. There was the seemingly unthinkable talk of a possible berth in the NJSIAA state sectionals.
“Every year, our goal was just to get better than the year before,” Farinola said. “But once we started winning a few this year, people started to think we might be able to qualify for the states. We didn’t even know what the cutoff was.”
The Vikings already earned 12 victories for the season and that 12-5 record was good enough to indeed qualify for the NJSIAA Sections North 1&2, Group I championships at Bowling Green Golf Club in Oak Ridge in Morris County.
So the Vikings got up before the crack of dawn Monday morning, loaded up the bus and headed for their place among the very best golf teams in the state. Yes, little old North Arlington, qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in the school’s history.
“They feel like they belong,” Farinola said. “Their hard work is finally paying off.”
Senior Matthew Karras is one of the Vikings’ more dedicated golfers. He’s been a part of the program for three years.
“He’s the heart and soul of the team,” Farinola said. “He was part of those four-win teams.”
Kenny Kuzmuk, who played baseball his first three years at NA, joined the golf team this season for his senior year.
“He’s good friends with Karras,” Farinola said of Kuzmuk. “He told me he wanted to try golf. The two of them worked really hard together in the offseason.”
Junior Darian Nogueras was a member of the track team who somehow participated in two golf matches last year.
“He’s a big part of the rebuilding,” Farinola said. “He’s a good golfer.”
Junior Phil Rosalis-Goncalves, sophomore Louie Davio and freshman Tyler Sheffler round out the Viking varsity squad.
“The good thing is that they’re all relatively close to each other in terms of scores,” Farinola said. “They have all progressed nicely.”
Nogueras has the lowest average, carding 50 per nine holes on a regular basis. Karras and Kuzmuk are right around 51, with Sheffler at 53, Davio at 55 and Rosalis-Goncalves a few shots back.
“There is good consistency,” said Farinola, who has taken his team to Overpeck Park in Teaneck and Orchard Hills in Paramus, two public Bergen County courses, to prepare. The Vikings also got a few chances to play at the Forest Hill Country Club in Bloomfield.
“We were very fortunate to get the chance to play there,” Farinola said. “Forest Hill invited us and we gladly accepted.”
Needless to say, it’s been a memorable spring for the North Arlington golf team, one that has historic proportions.
“It’s been fun, but golf is fun,” Farinola said. “It’s been fun seeing the improvement. There has been a lot of buzz going on with the golf team and that’s new.”
Farinola, who is also a soccer coach, said that coaching golf has been a little different than coaching soccer.
“It’s a completely different animal,” Farinola said. “There’s a different bond with the kids. There is a lot more time spent working with them as individuals. And not as much yelling.”
While Farinola is pleased with the players’ dedication, the coach is a fairly dedicated soul as well.
You see, Farinola married fiancée Deidre Bielicka, an orthopedic surgeon who was a standout athlete at Bloomfield High School during her heyday, last Saturday. Two days later, Farinola was boarding that bus for the state sectional golf tourney. No time for a honeymoon just yet.
“She gets it and understands it,” Farinola said of his newlywed wife. “We’ll take a late honeymoon.”
By then, the honeymoon for the North Arlington golf program might still be ongoing.